This article is meant to provide the reader with an expanded vision of recycling. It highlights an example of ingenuity and practical application being pursued in Brazil. It might be possible that this sort of technology influences future large scale composting/recycling at California disposal sites one day.
Plastic waste makes for one of the most challenging forms of trash because it takes a long time to degrade. It contributes to landfill overflow and the pollution of oceans and waterways. But what if plastics could be made from a recycled, natural, biodegradable source?
According to the U.K. paper The Independent, British scientists have developed a technology that uses microwaves to turn plant-based waste, such as orange peels, into an eco-friendly plastic. Researchers have created a partnership with the juice-making industry in Brazil, and have launched the Orange Peel Exploitation Company to demonstrate the technology on a large scale.
"There is eight million tons of orange residue in Brazil. For every orange that's squeezed to make juice, about half of it is wasted," said James Clark, professor of green chemistry at the University of York and developer of the new approach. "What we've discovered is that you can release the chemical and energy potential of orange peels using microwaves."
The technique works by transforming the tough cellulose molecules of the plant matter into volatile gases by focusing high-powered microwaves on plant-based material. The gases are then distilled into a liquid product that can be used to make plastic. The process works at 90% efficiency, and it can be used on a variety of plant waste, although orange peels are particularly good for this technique because they are rich in the chemical d-limonene, which is also a key ingredient in many cleaning products and cosmetics.
"The unique feature of our microwave is that we work at deliberately low temperatures," Clark said. "We never go above 200C. You can take the limonene off or you can turn limonene into other chemicals. It works really well with waste paper. It can take a big range of bio-waste material."
The environmental benefit of this technology is not only in developing a more biodegradable plastic, but in recycling plant waste that is normally discarded. The beneficiaries of this technique if it becomes more widespread will be farmers, factories and power stations that deal with excess biomass, as well as all of us.
There's bound to be future technologies that change the nature of recycling. For now, however, it's important that we all do our part to recycle as much as we can. Nov. 15 is America Recycles Day. For more information and resources on recycling and America Recycles Day, check out www.americarecyclesday.org and www.earth911.com.
Please note that just because a product is labeled "biodegradable" or "compostable," it's still not okay to litter the item.
Resources: "Orange Peels Could Be Made Into Biodegradable Plastic," by Bryan Nelson, Mother Nature Network.
Written by Judy Linda and Sandee Scott. Submitted by Keep Our Mountains Beautiful (KOMB). For information on joining KOMB please call: (559) 877-2361 or (559) 760-1058. This monthly Sierra Star column is intended to increase awareness and provide education regarding littering, recycling and community beautification.
Written by Judy Linda and Sandee Scott. Submitted by Keep Our Mountains Beautiful (KOMB). For information on joining KOMB please call: (559) 877-2361 or (559) 760-1058. This monthly Sierra Star column is intended to increase awareness and provide educatio