GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- Because of the material make up, less than 10% of consumer plastics are recycled. Two professors, one from UW-Madison and the other from Michigan Tech, are hoping to increase that number.
For years, consumers have been recycling cans, plastic bottles, cardboard and paper -- a lot of materials that are made in Northeast Wisconsin. But there is still a large percentage of plastic packaging materials that end up in the landfill.
“Unfortunately, most plastics we don't know how to recycle. Your flexible films, your grocery bags -- the stuff that wraps around your meat packaging. When you go to the grocery store, you buy all that stuff in plastic packaging. Those types of plastic, we don't have the infrastructure to be able to recycle today,” says George Huber, a College of Engineering professor at UW-Madison.
Huber has come up with a method to recycle materials that are currently being thrown out with the trash. The new process is called STRAP (Solvent Targeted Recovery and Precipitation) and according to Huber, “It uses solvents to selectively solubilize one plastic over another. Then, we precipitate it out, and then we're left behind with a pure plastic.”
That pure plastic comes out in pellet form, which in turn can be used to make new packaging materials. Huber adds, “We turned it into a film that we made from this mixed plastic waste that was previously unrecyclable.”
While Huber and a team at UW-Madison came up with the process, it was Michigan Tech staff and students who are creating the system prototype to breakdown the plastic in a larger scale.
“What we are doing is, we're going from a lab scale -- which could be a pound, half a pound, quarter pound -- all the way to something similar to say a ton, ton per hour. That's what we're trying to do that, and we are doing it in strong collaboration with the Madison crew,” says Ezra Bar-Ziv, a mechanical engineering professor at Michigan Tech.
The process design has been finalized and the components currently being tested to make sure they can integrate into the system. Officials at Michigan Tech believe they'll have the full prototype up and running by the end of this year.
Once the process is fully functional and approved, the plan is to build the first commercial plastic recycling system somewhere in the Green Bay area.
“If we can do this, we'll become the epicenter of recycling plastics,” says Marty Ochs, the executive director of Green Bay Innovation Group.
The new recycling method is a venture that will not only bring opportunity and jobs to an area that is already booming in packaging materials, but one that is good for the environment too.
Green Bay Innovation Group -- a business-to-business consortium of those in the paper, packaging, printing, converting and related industries -- plans to lead the fundraising efforts to secure the $9 million needed to build the recycling facility in Northeast Wisconsin.