Recently I read another article about a pilot whale dead from eating plastic bags. Pilot whales and green turtles (and probably other animals) eat jelly fish. Plastic bags adrift in our oceans look like jelly fish and are mistakenly eaten by these animals. The bags can drift for hundreds of years, some estimates say up to 1000 years. There are efforts underway to capture and remove as much plastic as possible from our oceans. I wanted to make sure I don't add any plastic to the oceans so I made this project. It is by no means the only answer to the problem, but I feel every little bit helps. By heating and pressing the plastics together they will adhere to each other and make a solid puck. In the unlikely event that it ended up in the ocean, it looks nothing like a jelly fish. Maybe somebody can scale up this idea and provide a service to cities and towns? You may live in an area where more types of plastic are recycled, but here the only plastic that can be recycled are bottles (water, soda, etc) and capped containers(shampoo, cleaners, etc). That leaves a huge amount of single use plastic in my garbage bin. Wrappers from chips and candy bars, the bag inside a cereal box, the cellophane from a slice of cheese, The plastic rings that hold sodas in a 6 pack to name a few. One thing this project has taught me is how much plastic waste I generate, it will definitely alter the way I buy foods when I can help it. I hope this can help you curb the amount of plastic waste you generate. I don't plan on throwing my melted plastics away, I want to save it and try to make something in the future, maybe my own coffin, lol.
Step 1: My Plan
My idea came to me when I found out how limited my towns recycling program was, and more news stories about dead whales. I wanted to at least keep my plastic waste from being able to float and lure an unsuspecting ocean creature into ingesting it. Knowing that most plastics are thermoplastics I thought of using a waffle iron to meld them together and make a solid puck. In case you don't know thermoplastics can be adhered to each other using heat and pressure. I saw youtube videos about carefully ironing plastic bags together and later cooking it in the oven to make it adhere into one solid sheet of plastic, but I thought this was too labor intensive. Also it seemed like that technique was using a huge amount of energy, both electric and human. Plus all my plastics are irregular and wouldn't be suitable for the clothes iron technique. As my main goal was deforming and adhering the plastics into a chunk I thought a waffle iron would do the trick, not as pretty, but fast and efficient. .
Step 2: My Man George Foreman
I went to a local peddlers mall and found the waffle irons rather pricey. Since I wasn't sure this was going to work, I didn't want to spend a bunch. I figured it might just melt into a gooey mess and the iron would be ruined. Luckily George Foreman had made a million grills and they were cheaper than the waffle irons. And it turns out they are perfect for melding plastics!
Step 3: Investigate the Iron
I'm not sure what I was looking for, I just wanted to know how this thing was put together in case I could avoid catching stuff on fire etc. Its a fairly simple device, it has an element attached to the top and bottom grill services that resemble the heating element in an electric oven. The element is positioned in the center, and I worried that most of the melting would be there, but turns out the grill surfaces do a great job of evenly distributing the heat. I included this step so you wont have to take yours apart.
Step 4: Setting the Iron Up to Melt Plastic.
I had no idea what to expect, I really thought the plastic would turn to liquid. The bottom of these grills has a down turned flap to allow fat to run off, so I didn't want to use it upright. I noticed the top has a nice edge around it and I imagined that would keep all the plastic from pouring out. The top cover of the grill is rounded, so I used a little sand jig to cradle it. I use the sand jig to cast plaster into silicone molds, so I had it laying around, you will need to improvise something. I went to the trouble of checking my level since I imagined the plastic would be all liquid, this was not the case. The grill has an odd feature, it lacks an on/ off switch , so I plugged it into a power strip with a switch.
Step 5: First Go With the Rig
I laid out some of my plastics, and arranged them into piles of similar plastics. One note, this is going to put off some plastic fumes so do it outside. I decided to have a go with the softer bag types first. I crossed my fingers and hit the switch. To my amazement instead of a harsh burning plastic smell, it smelled great... then I remembered one of the bags had BBQ chips. I didn't bother washing my plastic as I am only trying to change its shape, not recycle it. I kept a timer going and decided to stop at 8 mins. I made that decision based on how far down the plastic had compressed after the heat was on. I think 8 mins is fine, I do 10 mins when its a fatter stack of plastic. I tuned the grill off and waited for a minute. I tried to open it to look in and burned my finger tips pretty bad, so dont touch the front edge for a couple of minutes after turning it off. I believe the iron is still melting the plastics for a number of minutes after its turned off. I ended up waiting ten minute before trying to open it. I tried to open it with my fingers again, and it woudn't budge, I thought for sure I had ruined the grill. I used a pry bar and it opened with ease. The first batch was not too hopeful(see photo above) It had lots of tiny parts around the edge which would make a lot of micro plastics for sure. So next I tried the harder plastics, it was also a disappointment. The soda rings melted great, but zip ties and the plastic cup were almost unaffected. In both cases there were lots of voids and I was beginning to think my plan was not going to work.
Step 6: Necessity the Mother of Invention
I decided to try using a lot more plastic for this run, frankly I was ready to give up. There was no way to close the it and keep all the plastic in the grill. That's when I decided to stuff all the loose plastic into one of the bags in the pile. That was much easier to manage, I folded the flap under and was able to close the grill. I weighted the lid (previously the bottom) with a brick and flipped the switch. This time I let it cook for 10 minutes. As it melts the lid will come down, compressing the plastics and melting them together. When it had cooled I was pleased with the outcome. Almost all the plastics were contained and laminated inside the exterior bag and it seemed very solid and rigid. It looked nothing like a jelly fish! Any little pieces jetting out can be trimmed and put into the pile for the next run.
Step 7: Melding Them Together.
I took all three first attempts and stuck them inside like a plastic sandwich. I left it on for 15 minutes this time. After it had cooled I had a puck about 5/8" thick that was as stiff as a board, the layers having adhered to each other. I could see using it for a building material it was so rigid.
Step 8: Still Going
The next day and the day after I collected plastics from my workshop trash and home trash and melted all of that as well. I noticed that you can poke the plastic inward while it melts to make the puck more compressed. I used the eraser end of a pencil. Just make sure you don't touch the black surfaces or you will get burned. Its a really fun, easy; and satisfying way to condense and reform your waste plastics. The grill uses 760 watts when its on, but that is usually 10 minutes and I cant see me making enough plastic to justify running more than twice a week. Maybe that will turn into once a week or once a month. It really is surprising how much waste plastic we generate, I bet it'll surprise you if you start putting it to the side for your own George Foreman grill. Thanks for looking! I hope this helps somebody and I look forward to reading suggestions in the comments below.
Step 9: One Year Later...
So here is my pile! 13.97 pounds, excluding paper labels I cut around and plastic that was used to wrap stinky things I didn't want to mess with. I would guesstimate my true haul to be around 16-18 pounds, which isn't bad as the global average is around 28 pounds. But at least none of my plastic will be ingested accidentally by whales or turtles. I have stopped buying certain things because they create so much waste, water bottle cases and chips in variety packs for instance. Its not the bottles themselves that were the problem as I recycle them, its the heat shrink plastic they wrap around the case. Chips in variety packs create way too much extra plastic as well. I now buy family size bags of chips instead. Thank you for all the comments, maybe somebody will improve this idea or create a publicly accessible giant press for their city or town.
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