Plastic is a widely used material in various areas of life like packaging, furniture, and electronics among others. The industrial age has accelerated its use in production and manufacture. A few examples of plastics include: high-density polyethylene (HDPE), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polypropylene (PP), Polystyrene (PS), and the most common being Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC).
Due to the non-biodegradability of plastic, the material tends to be a pollutant when disposed of into the environment. Plastic can be a pollutant both on water and land. On land, plastic interferes with the soil’s drainage and distribution of nutrients and in water, plastic tends to poison marine life. By poisoning marine life, the effects of plastics have been linked to cancer among people who consume marine life. Plastics are also known to clog sewer systems and interfere with drainage systems. This makes plastic a hazardous material when disposed of in the environment.
However, rather than disposing of it into the environment, waste plastic can be recycled into useful construction material.
There are several properties of plastic that make it an ideal construction material which include: Plastic is a lightweight construction material compared to the rest of the construction materials like concrete and steel. This makes it easy to transport from place to place and easy to handle. Plastic is also very mouldable into any desired shape by melting and pouring in molds. This makes plastic widely applicable in various situations due to its flexibility. Plastic is also highly resistant to the action of germs and decomposition compared to materials like wood.
Owing to such properties, plastic has a wide range of applications in the construction industry. Plastic can be used to make carpets, roofing tiles, floor tiles, wall tiles, plastic bricks, and blocks among others. Plastic can also be used to make quality concrete by mixing it—in a molten state—with the rest of the concrete components. Plastic can also be used to make formwork which is more effective than steel because plastic is lighter with similar or better physical properties.
Because of its desirable properties, plastic is recycled to convert useless waste into useful construction materials. Recycling plastic can be done through three different methods: mechanical, chemical, and thermal recycling.
Mechanical recycling involves the use of physical force on the waste plastic. This can be through grinding, shredding, compressing, and cutting forces. This approach involves the physical stress of waste plastic in order to manipulate plastic into any desired shapes.
Chemical recycling involves the use of chemicals to alter the properties of waste plastic into useful construction material. Chemical recycling can also involve the breakdown of plastic polymers into their respective monomer units.
Thermal recycling involves the treatment of waste plastic with high temperatures to alter its physical and chemical properties.
Pros and cons of Plastic
Plastic is cheap and easily produced on a wide scale. The fact that it’s waste plastic makes it even cheaper because it cuts the costs of purchasing new building materials. This subsequently cuts down on construction costs.
Reusing waste plastic also cuts down on waste management expenses since the waste is being reused. Waste management expenses include money paid toward proper waste disposal. But since the waste is being reused, there’s no need for waste disposal services.
Recycling plastic is a step in the right direction from an environmentalist point of view. The more plastic is reused, the less the plastic is disposed into the environment to become a pollutant.
Plastic is light and can easily be transported from one place to the other without significant transport costs. It also makes it easy to handle during site work, unlike steel or concrete which might require the use of a crane.
Plastic is also very easy to maintain because of its resistance to the action of germs and decomposition due to moisture and dampness.
Plastic can easily be produced in many colors. This makes plastic ideal from an aesthetic point of view.
Most of the plastic that is obtained comes with varying compositions, a mixture of different types of plastic that might be hard to distinguish. Thus it might be hard to predict the effectiveness of plastic whose composition is not certain.
There’s no standard for plastic thus it’s hard to categorize it into a desirable and undesirable bunch.
There are also specific costs to be incurred during the recycling process both in terms of equipment and labor.
Conclusion; Recycled plastic is a good construction material. It uses the good qualities of plastic as well as gets rid of waste plastic making useful what would otherwise have been a pollutant. It’s a win on both fronts; construction efficiency and environmental conservation.