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Julie Nawfal

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How can we improve plastic recycling ?

Hi everyone!
I am student in plastics engineering and am interested in plastics recycling.
As you probably know, the most popular drawback of plastic is that it’s very polluting. The problem is that so much people just throw up plastics scraps into nature, or put it in the ordinary bin, whereas plastic can be recycled. Nowadays, plastic recycling has been well improved and we should continue on that way.
So, I’m looking for ideas which could be developed to encourage people to sort plastic to recycle them in the most optimum way.
Thank you in advance for your responses.

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    Dec 17 2013: I assume you have listened to this talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/mike_biddle.html ?

    One of the most difficult things is to get people to understand their impact on the environment and give them the ability to make real changes. It's not enough to educate them on the problem - you need to give them a solution that they can easily take part in. I recycle simply because I have a blue recycling bin and a gray trash bin. It's easy for me to do. When I was in NYC, that wasn't the case so I didn't recycle nearly as much. Occasionally my landlord would put out a separate bin out and we would all dump our recycling in there so fast.

    There is only so much the public can do to make changes like these. The rest need to slowly start happening with the manufacturers themselves - using less plastic in packaging, giving people alternatives to buying plastic water bottles, etc.
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    Dec 17 2013: Ban plastic... forever. No product should be made that doesn't naturally decompose.
    • Dec 23 2013: There are plastics that decompose reasonably easily. The most important part is most epoxy resins.

      Some products are better made from a non-self-destructing material too, so a wide scale ban is the wrong thing to do. What needs to be cut is frivolous use, such as water bottles, bags, shoes, general purpose clothing.

      In most places plastic can be replaced with materials such as glass, fabrics, metals, wood or wood-like products (using epoxy glues).

      The main thing plastics have going for them is that they're easy to mass produce by injection moulding. You cannot do that with fabrics or pure wood, but it is possible. The other problem is making the replacement materials light enough. Who wants something that does the same thing but weighs twice as much or is twice as expensive?
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    Dec 17 2013: What? I can be supplied a clean recycled plastic water bottle, but I can't get a clean drink of water from a spigot? Something's not right. Who sold us on the idea of water in a plastic bottle anyway? Follow the money and you'll know.
    • Dec 24 2013: I agree. Who is one of the largest bottlers of drinking water? Non other than Coca Cola.
      I did a tour in Iraq in 07-08 and the roadways were littered with plastic water bottles as far as the eye could see. Very depressing.
  • Dec 13 2013: I'm not sure, but I like this quote......

    "Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we've been ignorant of their value."

    -Buckminster Fuller
  • Dec 28 2013: the key is kids,,

    kids will collect and sort anything if they belive it is in aid of a cause, so a school focused collection drives would be the way forward. the trick is to incentivise the schools to collate it

    this could be in the form of "tokens" for each ton of plastic that a school collects redemable for equipment or educational trips and funded either by donations from the recycling companies or preferably the companies creating the surplus plastics, the incentive for the companies is that donations are tax deductable and good for corporate image

    it would also be interesting to have items which the schools could buy back or receive in lew of donated plastics, such as play equipment/ picnic benches/ decking etc which are already made from recycled plastics

    or even clothing made from recycled plastics, such as jackets, school bags etc
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      Dec 29 2013: Thanks Charles!
      kids could be really involved in such a project.

      Nice idea to develop ;)
  • Dec 15 2013: I am an old goat - so my first idea was that goats eat everything, so just have everyone get a goat and the goats will eat the plastic and do the recycling for us (that's supposed to be a joke).
    More seriously, in the "olden days" governments wanted to reduce discarded glass, so through legislation they decreed that when you bought a drink that came in a glass bottle the store checkout would add 5 cents (American) for each bottle which would be added on to your bill and be called a bottle deposit. Later on when you finished drinking your bottles you could bring the empties back to the store and get your 5 cents per bottle back - the bottles would go back to the bottler and be reused. A lot of empty bottles never made it back to the store, but kids would earn spare change by scouring all over the place for bottles that they could bring into the store for the 5 cents per bottle deposit.

    Aluminum cans proved easier to do than glass because aluminum has relatively high intrinsic value - so most towns have active aluminum recycling available and this is all private sector driven - no government legislation required.

    Since plastic has low intrinsic value I suspect you would have to go a route similar to the glass bottle route - that is by legislation put a monetary deposit on plastic containers. To handle the diversity of plastic types you might need a bar code or other type indicator to expedite sorting.
  • Dec 14 2013: Since you are a student in plastics engineering, please read my suggestion below, see if this is practicable.
    Is there a possibility that a relatively small recycling plant, conveniently located in the center, or near center of the city, to recycle the plastics and converting, right in the same facility, into some containers or 'utensils" such as combs, forks and knives, etc. using the newly developed 3D printing machine. If this is possible, then people would like to bring only reasonable amount of used plastic bottles, etc. and trade the recyclable materials for some equivalent utensils as a fair trade. Of course, some or all of these plastic utensils could be pre-manufactured, so the "exchange" needs only one trip for the recycle trader.
    As you should know that in most of the cities, the municipality hires collecting workers and trucks and other workers, such that the municipality would end up losing money in carrying out the "recycling service". So a free market trading system would be more efficient.
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      Dec 14 2013: Thanks ! It's such a good idea, I will try to work on it :)
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      Dec 16 2013: Or to take that one step into the future, trade you plastic recyclables for “3D Printer Filament”.
      (FYI: “3D Printer Filament” looks just like a spool of weed eater line.)
      So instead of paying $15 per lb. you can get a cut rate of $10 or less per lb.

      Currently people are only printing small one time objects, but in not in the too far off future I can foresee large scale printing projects. Like custom tiles for a restroom or kitchen, personalize mega Lego sets for kids, custom quad-copter frames and blades, etc. etc. etc.
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        Dec 16 2013: The Filabot is the first attempt at recycling plastics to make 3d printer filament. However, they seem to have been sidetracked somehow and gotten greedy... http://www.filabot.com/
        But I'm betting that we'll see the first good product of a system like this within two years.

        And people aren't only making small stuff, there have been printed; Guns, clothes, skulls, bikes, shoes, cars and exoskeletons just to mention some.
        You can order a gMax today I believe, it prints 16" x 16" x 9" and if that's not enough you can always but a VX4000 which prints 4m x 2m x 1m...

        There's also a TED talk from TEDxOjai that aims to print houses https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdbJP8Gxqog

        Well, there's a ton of stuff out there if you care to google, or you could go to http://www.reddit.com/r/3dprinting to see all kinds of cool stuff.
      • Dec 16 2013: My idea of recyclable trading FOR utensils is for the convenience of the consumer/plastics owner to have readily useful commodities he can trade for, Most of the people wouldn't need large amount of filament anyway.
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    Dec 11 2013: In my area (US Midwest) we have “Single Stream Recycling” AI: all recyclable materials (Paper, plastic, & metal cans) can be placed in the same recycling container. (Plastic bags still need to be separated) This makes it easier to recycle, I have not heard if or how much this is helping.
    PS. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single-stream_recycling

    Personal would love to see and use recycling-exchanges; with a recycling-exchange being a place where you can trade recyclables for near equal amount of building material. AI: empty plastic bottle are traded for plastic chips or sheets, 5-pounds of aluminum cans is traded for 4 pound aluminum bar, etc.

    This would encourage people to recycle and learn to build things themselves, like people use to do.
    • Dec 23 2013: Will trade bottles for wood?

      I see a small problem with that system - few people have the tools to actually work in plastic.
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    Dec 11 2013: Here in Oregon recycling is popular. I have a large bin for recycling where we put all paper, cardboard, and certain plastics, and it gets hauled away once a week. The reason we recycle rather than throw this stuff into garbage is that we pay for the garbage (it must fit in one container), while recycling volume is unlimited. If not for the recycling bin, we would need 2 or 3 garbage containers.

    A few years ago, recycling company required residents to sort paper, plastic, glass, and scrap metal into separate bins, but now they all can be mixed except glass which is VERY convenient. I agree with Bryan that necessity to sort the junk is a big deterrent for recycling.

    There is still a problem - plastic bags cannot be thrown into our home recycling bin. This is a big bummer. Plastic bags make the second largest volume of our waste that does not go into our recycling bin after paper towels. Many grocery stores started to accept plastic bags for recycling. This year, we started to put plastic bags into larger plastic bags instead of throwing them away. Those bundles go into the trunk of our car and when we are at the store, we recycle them. The problem is that we are often driving around with the trunk full of plastic bags for several weeks and forget to recycle them. So, it is still quite inconvenient.

    The bottom line of my story - people will use recycling instead of garbage when it will be EASIER and/or CHEAPER for them to recycle than to use garbage. If it takes a special trip somewhere to recycle, very few people would do it. When we had 2 babies, I had to get a larger garbage container from the waste company (diapers) and pay $56 for it instead of $31 or so for the smaller container. I still use the larger container although we don't use diapers any more. $25 is not a huge difference. But if I had to pay $100 more for a larger conatiner, I would, definitely, get a smaller one and get rid of those paper towels as well.
  • Dec 31 2013: This is the Continuation of the comment below this entry

    However add in human innovation (Ideas???) and inventiveness; and this mixture could be used to build e.g. artificial reefs incorporating wire mesh to allow coral, to cover them over; blocks for sea walls, to hold back rising sea levels, foundation slabs for construction, the list is only limited by the human imagination.

    The outside walls of the solar heated metal vats for melting the plastic could also incorporate pipes, through which sea water would be pumped and heated; this would serve to desalinate the water via distillation, while also supplying steam energy to generate electricity, to be used by the facility.

    This brings us to shipping costs; when we consider that shipping costs are already involved in the current practise of dumping western plastic waste, into third world countries; this cannot be said to be an issue.
    Sincerely hope this provides a basis; for a flood of related thoughts, comments, and ideas, from TED members.

    Cheers Carl
  • Dec 31 2013: Before reading this comment in relation to plastic recycling and disposal, it might be worthwhile to use the WWW to refer to such documentaries as Mega Construction, Mega Factories, Mighty Machines etc. and the reason I say this, because it will show that what I am proposing is perfectly reasonable and feasible.

    The first step in dealing with the plastic pollution problem, is the organisation of the gathering in of plastic from the environment, and I am sure many TED members will have ideas in this regard; the second or combined step, is to prevent plastic items being disposed of into the environment, e.g. by placing a returnable deposit on all plastic bottles etc. and setting up plastic collection centres. The next step is to build industrial plastic recycling centres on the coastal regions of very hot “sun-drenched” coastal regions, with shipping ports.

    These centres would have very large elevated metal vats, preferably made of heat conducting copper or with heat conducting rods passing through the lower part of the vat; the heat supply needed to melt the flakes of plastic being recycled, would be gained from the sun, using multiple concave solar mirrors to focus its rays onto the external surface of the conductive rods, passing through the lower part of the vat.

    Below this vat of the resultant molten plastic; industrial sized mixing machinery and vats, would serve to mix the molten plastic with sand, or waste (crushed) concrete and brick from construction sites. The resultant sand and plastic mixture when cooled into e.g. blocks, would then be heavy enough to sink down into the quiet (no currents to cause plastic erosion) deepest areas of the oceans, which are several kilometres deep.

    Continued above this comment
  • Dec 29 2013: Recycling costs energy. The best way to reduce plastic waste is not using plastics. Bring your own bag to the shop, try to use more organic materials which can easily be composted after use.
    The industries should be forced to produce less plastic and think twice before they make products which leave tons of plastic after unpacking the product.
    Completely ban plastics is an utopia. I agree that some products need plastic. e.g. cucumbers. The plastic around it makes it that less cucumber becomes waste.
  • Dec 29 2013: The best way to improve plastic recycling is publicity.Tell people the importance of recycling plastic.
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    Dec 28 2013: this may seem a little far fetched but I was thinking of filling up hundreds - thousands with sand ,gravel or maybe even some other substance ... not sure , then sinking them in the ocean to form a base for a reef . Im not sure if the corals would attach to the plastic may have to punch holes in the bottles so the sand would come out .

    Im not a scientist or a biologist just a dreamer , any opinions
    • Dec 28 2013: the main issue with this would be the chemicals that would leach out of the plactics into the water. but otherwise an interesting idea
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        Dec 29 2013: and will be eaten by animals before being attached by such a substance
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          Dec 30 2013: they would not be just floating around on the ocean floor , they would be enclosed in a ss mesh bag then anchored to the floor no chance on getting eaten by a hungry sea,l shark, octopus, etc...
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        Dec 30 2013: not sure of what chems your talking about , we as humans do drink from them and we seem to be safe .
        • Dec 30 2013: do a little digging on bisphenol A, the levels involved on a bottle by bottle basis are deemed to be safe for consumption, currently

          however your idea isnt one bottle at a time, and the lifeforms involved not human

          chemical leaching does occur, but usually on a small scale,

          as i said your idea does have merit, but its still essentially a pretty landfill, albeit one off shore and out of site
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      Dec 29 2013: What would be the difference between this and landfills? Only that we'd have pollution in the sea instead where it would easily risk getting washed away.

      I think that the currently best method of disposal of plastics is in Mike Biddle's idea. We can recycle plastic on a huge scale. http://www.ted.com/talks/mike_biddle.html
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        Dec 30 2013: the containers could be anchored together to form one giant base maybe enclosed in a stainless steel mesh bag , could easily be anchored to the floor without too much difficulty or cost
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          Dec 30 2013: While I appreciate the idea of trying to do something good for the ocean I don't think that this is the right way to go.

          If we made a steel mesh containing plastic, plastic would still leak out unless the mesh was extremely fine, which would be of great cost. You see, plastic continues to break into smaller and smaller particles through time and those particles would in time leak and be digested by the smaller creatures of the ocean and then proceed to move up the food chain through digestion.

          Also the cost of transporting the plastic to ships and then to locations on open sea would indeed be of great cost. And there is no use for any sea creatures of plastic. There is however use for different species of the oceans for different metals like iron and steel.

          Some projects around the world are producing iron mesh frames that are then dropped into the ocean, and in time coral reefs grow on them. Thailand has even dropped old tanks (the kind used by the military, not containers) into the ocean to help in the formation of coral reefs.
  • Dec 25 2013: Recycling is not the answer as it still needs fossil fuel, to convert, remould, transport it etc. and the production of plastic is increasing, outstripping recycling and landfill.

    The world does not get it!! plastic is purified bitumen/tar/oil solidified, and poisonous to life; and it is constantly recycled in our oceans, as it chokes or poisons sea birds and (On the island of Midway a major breeding ground for the Albatross, every dead bird and dead chick autopsied, had plastic items in their stomachs) and marine life; and as their bodies decompose, it is then released to kill/murder, over and over again.

    The Corporate production of cheap nasty plastic crap, is constantly increasing; despite their awareness that plastic is accumulative and disastrous; as nature cannot get rid of it. It is truly a "Corporate Driven Evil" and inhuman obscenity; that there are entire beaches made of plastic granules rather than sand; and smaller granules are being ingested and digested by marine life; which will be forced to evolve to metabolize hydrocarbons in order to survive; then add in Corporate driven petro chemical pollution, ocean acidification, overfishing, and climate change; I do not see much hope for any warm blooded species, as long as these avaricious by proxy genocidal maniacs, are given free reign.

    Q. Given. oil has to go through more processes, in order to become plastic, than does petrol which is simply distilled; how its it that we can buy a large moulded and coloured plastic item, for less than we pay for a litre of petrol.

    A. Because big businesses can purchase oil and derivatives, for a tiny fraction of the price we have to pay for petrol. To the point; that plastic is so cheap to manufacture, it is now being used to make "trillions" of kids sweet wrappers/sweet bags/sweet containers, each day of the year: All of which end up in landfill, sewers, rivers, and the oceans, and are unneeded, we did not need them 50 years ago; and we need rid of them now
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    Dec 24 2013: I live in Germany since 2011 and I really can see the difference with Italy when we talk about recycling and the answer is..MONEY!
    When you go to the supermarket and buy a plastic bottle, you pay it the normal cost + 25 cents for "pfand" = caution. Then it's your choice: you can throw the bottle away and lose your money or bring it back to the store and get your money back.
    25 cents sound like nothing, but if you add 25+25+25..at the end of the year it's quite a lot!
  • Dec 18 2013: Two things that control what and how people do things: Convenience and rewards.
    Make it more convenient to recycle. Most people will not seek out the recycle bin to recycle. More locations need to have more spots to recycle. But not just restaurants and stores either. Lake Michigan is near my home and the areas by the lake are full of garbage. But if more recycling cans/bins were around we could significantly cut down on the litter as well as get more recyclables. Second, people save up cans to get that 5 cents per can. Similar rewards should be given for pastic aterials.
  • Dec 18 2013: Thank you very much for starting this conversation Julie, it's great to see the different approaches being taken to this issue all over the world. Existing approaches that I favour are recycling bins alongisde rubbish bins in the street as well as the home, and the charge on bottles and cans which is refunded if you return the material.

    I am working on a project en ce moment on trying to incentivise better social responsibility and behaviour among households. The goal is to formulate an index of how a community performs on a number of variables - percentage of waste recycled, average electricity consumed per household, blood donations, charitable donations, and 3 others - which will allow communities to be ranked on a leaderboard based on how socially responsible they are. Top-performing communities will be rewarded with a periodic prize fund and/or discounts from service providers.

    It reflects my belief that a combination of awareness, 'peer pressure'/self-comparison, and financial incentives can improve recycling and other behaviours. A related concept in the utilities field might be of interest to you http://www.ted.com/talks/alex_laskey_how_behavioral_science_can_lower_your_energy_bill.html .

    Bonne chance avec vos études
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    Dec 17 2013: I don't know much about plastic recycling methods but I think that we (consumers)can change the trend of companies. If we start purchasing echo friendly products and cosmetics etc which are packed in 100% post consumer recycled bottles, the companies will surely change their packing according to trend. There are a few stores which are offering echo friendly products like
    http://www.naturalorganiccare.co.uk , Dr. Bornner products and many more
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    Dec 14 2013: Um, did anyone pay any attention to the VERY relevant Talk I shared?

    "Mike Biddle: We can recycle plastic" http://www.ted.com/talks/mike_biddle.html

    Maybe I should just copy the transcript and post it for you guys....
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      Dec 14 2013: Thank you for sharing ! Very interesting !
  • Dec 11 2013: Ms. Nawfal, I am witness as we all are to this tragic age of disposable products and I commend you on your goals for making this a healthier planet. I would like to suggest two ideas which may be of value to your quest. In Maine we have a refund value for plastic bottles and aluminum can which could be taken to a store put in a machine and a refund slip would appear at the end of the transaction. My other thought is a little more psychological, it would involve getting our roles models out in the public's eye to lead by example. Here in the states many young adults and children have role models be it musicians, athletes and dare I say politicians who they aspire to. Your challenge is noble and I commend you on your choice for it is our present that dictates our future. People such as you give hope to myself and others that apathy for our planet and civilization will one day join the great brains and spirit that we are blessed with .I thank you
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      Dec 14 2013: Thank you so much for your encouragements and ideas !
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    Dec 11 2013: If the product has value people will recycle it. It is ridiculous to think that government can help.
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      Dec 11 2013: My government is earning a lot of money on this... And it's helping...
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      Dec 11 2013: But Pat has a very valid point. Financial gain would be really good for this, then people would think that they were throwing away money, not junk.

      In Sweden we have the recycling of cans and plastic bottles and over 98% of all cans and bottles are recycled because throwing them is a huge waste of money (a can costs about $0.15 and a bottle 4 times that).

      And the cans that people do throw away are picked up by homeless people, Gothenburg has even made their trash bins two-split, one for the trash and one for the recycling that homeless people can take without needing to go through the trash.

      Give the same economic incentive with plastics and we'd see none in the streets or in nature.
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        Dec 11 2013: You are right guys! Thanks for all your replies.
        There is also such a system here, in France : people just pay for each kilo of waste they put in bins.
        But what about thinking of something without financial gain ?
        The idea of recylcing without sorting seems good, but it's chemically problematic... We have to work on it !
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          Dec 11 2013: We're just starting to implement the "pay by kilo" here, it's resulted in much more trash in public spaces and nature... I think the costs are greater then the gains for this, or maybe it's a passing phase...

          There's a difference between financial punishment and opportunity for financial gain...
        • Dec 11 2013: I lived in a city that had forced recycling. The efforts to which people would go to avoid it were probably more costly than the effort to do the recycling, but people still did it because they resented government intruding into YET ANOTHER PART OF LIFE. Likewise, since it was government, any entity with political influence found ways to get exempted. Government cannot be trusted.
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        Dec 17 2013: "Financial gain would be really good for this, then people would think that they were throwing away money, not junk."

        I got the giggles when I read this because I learnt years ago that our rubbish tips (in New Zealand) had a process of dumping all plastic milk bottles in one area (in the hope that a solution could be found and the plastic easily retrieved) so I could just see the headline "Dump Heist...Robbers steal 52 tonnes of plastic!"
  • Dec 11 2013: Develop a recycling method that does not require sorting.
  • Jan 9 2014: Hi Julie

    I have just started an "Ideas" conversation titled "Hot plastic and sand mixing; for disposal or re-moulding" and a little later I will be expanding on the original idea in order to include; the recovery of the precious metals from electrical appliances, and electronic components.

    Cheers Carl
  • Jan 9 2014: Hi Julie

    I have just started an "Ideas" conversation in regard to and titled "Hot plastic & sand mixing; for disposal and/or re-moulding"
    and shall be expanding on the original idea a little later, in regard to recovering the precious metals from electronic equipment and components, and thus recycling them.

    Cheers Carl
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    Jan 8 2014: A little divergent thinking here, how about the manufactures of all this plastic start making the containers multipurpose? For example I but the dog treats the come in the square plastic, large lid plastic containers and I save them and reuse them in to store small items. I could empty plastic bottles but with the round odd shapes and small lids, they are only designed for one use.

    So what if lot of the plastic packaging could be stacked like Lagos, stuffed with plastic bags and be used to build stuff. Bottles that would have female screw bottoms an male screw tops so people could make long useful tubes.
  • Jan 8 2014: Hi
  • Jan 8 2014: For every tenth plastic and its plastic deravative manufacture, there could be the law governing for 11 th plastic produce to be an recycled or reused version of the same... Be it any plastic range from 1-6..
    I am Assistant Professor from India, would be able to shell out few ideas on Reverse Logistics On Plastic Management.
    Well, my research Topics of Interest..
    Please feel free to comment on the above idea and open to discussion.
  • Jan 8 2014: The key word for success is motivation, unfortunately nowadays you can motivate only by rewarding. Here is the answer: reward people for recycling.