Friday, January 18, 2008

Plastic Shopping Bags Can Make Steel

While many parts of the world – including China – either have, or are planning, to ban plastic bags, and often plastic packaging, there is now a new patented option to truly reuse and recycle that plastic. Plastic waste now has a new life!

Six years of research at the University of NSW has developed an improved, more efficient steelmaking process using plastic packaging that would otherwise finish up in landfill. Currently many of the major supermarket chains in Australia have plastic bag recycling drop off points……but many consumers have been sceptical of what happens to them. Now you know that there is a real second life for them.

Veena Sahajwalla, a professor in the school of materials science and engineering, has invented a methodology for extracting carbon from plastic packaging, and in the process to use it to replace 30 per cent of the coke and coal used to make steel. The process could save millions of dollars and reduce greenhouse gases.

But it's the prospect of diverting large amounts of plastic packaging from landfills that excites Professor Sahajwalla most about the technology. "It's a win-win situation, better for the environment and the company," she says. "In making steel there's essentially no difference between the polyethylene plastic in shopping bags, soft packaging and some drink containers, and a natural resource like coal."

A deal signed between NewSouth Innovations (UNSW's commercialisation arm) and OneSteel, a major steel producer in Australia, will allow for millions of tonnes of plastic packaging to be recycled to produce steel. Professor Sahajwalla hopes this is only the beginning and is working on technologies that will make use of other materials to replace coke and coal. "This is about sustainability as well as protecting the environment, this is definitely ongoing research."

OneSteel has been sponsoring Sahajwalla's work and has also acquired the rights to sub-license the new technology. Professor Sahajwalla is highly regarded in the field of materials engineering, and has received several awards for her research as well as sponsorship from national and international institutions.

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