Sadly, plastic is a constant in our daily life; it is rather inexpensive and it multitasks as it fills many functions across the spectrum of disciplines. The medical field, for example, mainly runs on single-use plastic equipment, to avoid potential infections. Honestly speaking, the medical waste is quite a daunting territory to explore (especially for precast manufacturers like us), since most of the waste is generated by treatments and blood-related products. In the specific, when looking at dialysis treatment, each session creates between 1 and 3 kilograms (2 to 5 pounds) of plastic waste, which needs to be sterilized or burnt before being thrown away, with great harm to the environment.
These were the dim figures with which nephrologists Dr. Katherine Barraclough and Professor John Agar from Barwon Health's University Hospital Geelong approached Dr. Riyadh Al-Ameri, a senior lecturer in structural engineering at Deakin University, as reported on Recycling Today. The Doctors were worried about the rate of the production of this waste, which adds to about 5,100 metric tons of plastic waste per year.
OPPORTUNITIES LIE AHEAD
Dr Al-mei and their project team looked at the role dialysis-related plastic waste from could play in enhancing the water-proof characteristics of concrete and slow down the steel bar corrosion. "Concrete can crack and damage the internal bond, which can then lead to water penetration and corrosion of the steel bars, critical for providing the strength and integrity of concrete structures. If we are able to facilitate production of new types of concrete that will offer better protection, give structures longer life and better performance, as well as help recycle plastic waste, that will be a great achievement.", he tells Recycling Today.
As part of the initial testing phase , Al-Ameri's team added the shredded plastic waste to a concrete mix at concentrations of 0.5 percent and 1 percent by weight of concrete, resulting in a more durable and waterproof mix and therefore with increased resistance to corrosion.
New tests will be sponsored by Fresenius Medical Care, a Germany-based global provider of dialysis products. These interdisciplinary collaborations and partnerships are extremely important to move beyond the waste problem, exploring pockets of opportunities.
On the one hand, plastic production and disposal are of great concern, especially considering the huge quantities of plastic waste that could be diverted from the landfill. On the other hand, is concrete is the most used artificial material, and emissions related to the cement production (main concrete ingredient) account for 5 percent of the world’s annual CO2 production. Humans tend to adapt to the crises, for example accepting the pollution problem as a fait accompli, and therefore these attempts to innovating are very valuable in rejecting that notion that pollution is the new normal.
MIT University students are also doing great work, looking at making use of plastic waste to reinforce concrete.