Developers see hope in using waste plastic in concrete
A new project in Pennsylvania will transform hard-to-recycle plastic — actually all types of resin — into a sand-like concrete additive.
Equipment is arriving at a 14,000-square-foot facility in York, Pa., that will be home to the Center of Regenerative Design and Collaboration's patented approach aimed at diverting plastics from both the environment and disposal.
It is an approach that has caught the attention of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, a nonprofit group backed by some of the biggest names in the plastics industry working to end plastic pollution.
The York facility will use a process developed and refined by CRDC at a pilot facility near San José, Costa Rica, that now also will ramp up to full production thanks to a low interest loan from the alliance to kickstart commercialization.
CRDC expects to be able to process a combined 26,400 tons of plastic waste each year between the two locations once they are running at full capacity. The end product is called Resin8, which is a take on the resin identification code of categorizing different plastics into Nos. 1 through 7, explained Donald Thomson, chairman and founder of CRDC in a Sept. 14 interview from Costa Rica.
Thomson thinks CRDC has cracked the economics-vs.-environmental code to create a product from troublesome plastic waste that will not only be valued by end uses in the concrete industry but also provide a substantial market for plastic that would otherwise be littered, thrown away or burned.
"It's not hard to find plastic if you find a solution," he said.
The CDRC process takes mixed plastics and transforms them into sand-like like consistency that will easily blend in concrete. The company has overcome a past hurdle of plastic not adhering to other constituents in the concrete mix through a unique process, Thomson explained.
Between 2 and 10 percent of the concrete mix can be made up of Resin8 for structural applications, and that number rises to up to 30 percent for non-structural uses, he said.
Considering the amount of concrete that's used each year, the potential appetite for Resin8 is huge.
A key to the effort, Thomson said, is getting both construction companies and waste management firms on board with regional projects to help ensure a supply plastic as well as and end use.
AEPW is loaning CRDC $4.8 million to build the new site in Pennsylvania and expand the pilot plant in Costa Rica. The loan is just what the fledgling effort needs to help make the economics work, Thomson said. "The financial assistance has been huge from the alliance. The alliance itself is an incredible industry entity. I don't think there's been anything like this before."
The alliance also sees the global potential of the technology created by CDRC.
"The Alliance is on a mission to end plastic waste in the environment — which means finding viable solutions to advance a circular economy and ensuring their ability to scale for impact. Together with CRDC, we can help drive environmental, economic and social value for hard-to-recycle plastics," said Alliance CEO Jacob Duer said in a statement. "We're excited to deliver this solution to the North and Central American markets, with the aim of bringing this to a global audience."
He views the potential for Resin8 to be substantial and far-reaching around the globe. CRDC spent the last few years refining the process and establishing connections to launch on what he hopes is a wide scale. Along with these two locations, there also is another pilot facility in Cape Town, South Africa.
"Now that we're in this, it's now our objective to get as many of these facilities built as quickly as we can build them," Thomson said.
Resin8 already has been used to help build hundreds of Habitat for Humanity homes in Costa Rica. Adding the material makes building materials up to 15 percent lighter or stronger depending on the application, with up to 20 percent better insulation.