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Non-recyclable plastic waste (V4)

Paul pauldufour

Non-recyclable plastic waste (V4)

11/10/2018 at 11:45

Hey guys, my name’s Paul and I’m a designer working on PP V4. One of our focuses for V4 is exploring ways to use the non-recyclable plastics (NRP) that we often collect but don’t have a use for.

To be clear, I’m talking about plastics that have no hope of ever being recycled back into useful tools/products/materials. Plastics that have been:

– degraded due to extended sun exposure, saltwater, etc. (common among beach plastics)

– molded with other materials (metal, silicone, etc.) and can’t be separated for recycling

– are simply too dirty to be cleaned effectively for normal recycling

Typically when these materials are collected, they’re sent to the landfill where they waste away eternally, or they’re incinerated to produce energy.

Neither of these options are great… Sending NRP to a landfill means the materials that could be useful will do nothing but take up space in a big pit of waste. And incinerating them releases gases into the atmosphere that contribute to air pollution and climate change.

So.. Our mission is to give hope to the Hopeless. Sounds tricky, but I think we can figure something out. I’ll share progress in this thread. If you’re interested in this issue and would like to contribute thoughts, ideas, and constructive criticisms, they’ll be greatly appreciated

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14/11/2018 at 16:28

Hi Paul,

I think you are the best person to ask the following:

We collect household waste cooking oil and get the oil mainly into PET bottles (see picture). Our idea is to build a shredder to separate the plastic from the oil.

Now, the question are:

– will the shredder be damaged by the oil and all the dirt that come with the oil?
– what to do with that plastic? What would be the best use? I understand that it would be too difficult to wash it..


29/10/2018 at 21:23


Very interesting. I haven’t made anything quite yet, but am planning to try to build houses out of recycled plastic here in Guatemala. There’s plastic everywhere and it can be bought pre-sorted by type fairly cheaply in any quantity at the “recicladoras”, but I don’t have any high volume shredding capability as of yet. So, I can buy it well shredded for about 3-4x the price, and a bit more for washed (I’m skeptical of how clean it will be given the marginal price increase – I’ll have to test it when I buy some soon).

Anyway, if I can build things of reasonable quality with dirty plastic, it would lower the cost. And would also make it more feasible to source raw plastic if all that’s required is to shred and melt it  – i just assumed that it wouldn’t work very well if dirty. I suppose truly dirty stuff – e.g. motor oil – could be pre-screened, and only use plastic that is simply dirty or has other residues and adhesives on it. After all, most of what I’ll make won’t really be “structural” so much as just sheathing or furniture. The important pieces could be made with more “pure” plastic.

Plenty to keep experimenting with! I should be starting in the next couple weeks once another project comes to a close.

I look forward to following your progress!

29/10/2018 at 20:03

Experiment 1.1 – Processing raw NRP using existing PP machines

To build on my last experiment, I compression molded a larger amount of the same non-recyclable plastic mixture which resulted in a block that’s 4cm thick. I haven’t run any tests to measure exact strength, but by touch the block seems to be quite durable.

Moving forward, I’d like to collect a more diverse selection of NRP (beach plastics, dirty plastics, etc. outside of our own workspace) to run compression tests comparing material properties of the different materials and mixtures to see how they vary. These experiments should give us a better understanding of the potential uses and applications for this category of plastics.

29/10/2018 at 19:53

thanks @nickchomey 🙂 looks like you’re located in argentina if I’m not mistaken?

I’m planning to dig deeper into learning about material properties in the coming weeks and will keep you posted.

do you have any pics of the dirty plastic you’ve found troublesome? I’d love to see what kind of materials you’re working with

29/10/2018 at 19:49

@rorydickens cool process, thanks for sharing. this is right in line with what I had in mind.. I’m curious to see if it’s been put to use out in the world anywhere. There might be ways to improve the machine/concept even further.

29/10/2018 at 19:33

@copypastestd I used between 160 and 170 for these tests

24/10/2018 at 01:24

@pauldufour Fantastic work! I’m also starting to think and tinker with mixed, dirty plastics as it is much harder for me to find sufficient clean plastic that is affordable where I am.

“I’m curious to learn how much of the material’s binding success is due to melted plastic, how much is due to pressure, and how much is due to the glues mentioned above”

Have you been able to draw any (even speculative) conclusions about strength/quality vs pressure, adhesives, and melted plastic “glue”?

I’m very much looking forward to keeping up with your progress!

21/10/2018 at 05:27


I wonder if there’s a way that we could streamline the process to make it more efficient…

Im thinking either an injection style machine that allows the bottles to screw on while they are filled or something more manual like this Columbian idea?

Colombia university receives patent for ecobrick technology

11/10/2018 at 22:35


11/10/2018 at 11:47

To start out, I’ve collected materials from the ‘Burn’ bin in our workspace – this is our last resort container where we put things that we can’t reuse/recycle properly.

Most of the plastics I found are molded/fused to other materials and can’t be separated (tape, packaging, ink pen, etc). Some are thermosets and can’t be remolded (silicone, rubber hose) and some are simply too dirty/degraded to be used in normal recycling processes.

There are a couple of directions I’m interested in exploring as a starting place.

One direction is Pyrolysis (plastic to oil), which transforms materials (including plastic waste) into oil which can be used for energy. There might be other uses for the oil as well…

The other direction is using NRP for building materials. In this way, the solution would serve as a long-term form of carbon embedment while simultaneously offering an alternative to environmentally harmful materials such as concrete.

18/11/2019 at 07:55

Hi there everyone!

Glad to get some time to actually check out these forums in a long time! In response to @rorydickens and the mention of ecobricks, I started working with them in 2012 in South Africa and started a project in the village of Greyton. This in turn inspired some other projects around the country including Ian Dommisse’s Ecobrick Exchange in Port Elizabeth which built an amazing childhood development center utilizing ecobricks in several different ways.

I think the most inspiring projects are coming out of Guatemala where ecobricks were first put to use in large scale structures, starting with Susana Heisse’s Pura Vida Atitlan. They have made a great construction guide in Spanish, and are editing the English version now. A separate but connected project Hug It Forward has now built 127 schools there around the country.

With my project Upcycle Santa Fe I have been collecting ecobricks from the community here in Northern New Mexico for the last 5 years, and just had to stop due to losing some storage space and needing to clear my schedule for some build-outs. I’ve also been running a plastic collection service for local businesses and making what are called Ubuntu-Blox. They are basically dense bales of bagged plastic that are used as an alternative to strawbale or wall-filling insulation.

Harvey Lacey, the inventor of the simple metal and wooden presses that make the Ubuntu-Blox, was initially filling the bags with only polystyrene foam. Since he shared the tech with us in 2014 we have started to use Ubuntu-Blox as a catch all for non-recyclable plastics, as well as recyclable ones because we don’t believe in industrial recycling (plus we don’t have PP machines yet to deal with hard plastics!).


Our idea is to use all collected clean and dry soft plastic and polystyrene foam for insulation bales (Grade A) and everything else for exterior benches and walls (Grade B). Here is a vid of an exterior project we did a year ago which gives a bit of an overview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auwWdh6X324

We have already completed a study on the off-gassing of ecobricks and Ubuntu-Blox. We are fundraising to do the final research (flame-spread and R-value insulation testing) to be able to insulate structures with ecobricks and Ubuntu-Blox: http://gofundme.org/ecobrick

One final project to share here is some really cool work in regards to the aggregate idea that I learned about recently. This man Dave Pennington out of Texas has been working with what he calls EPIC Cement Composite which is a mix of poly foam, paper and cement. It has some amazing qualities and is super strong as you can see towards the end of this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wT8P_zHyfwg&feature=emb_logo

Trying to work it all out on this end but it seems like with these options and the PP machines a (more) comprehensive program could be formulated. All the best plastic team!

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