You hope to one day see a composite recycling database where composite professionals can go to list their scrap or find scrap that they or another company can use in their own facility. How can other companies help make this a reality?
The answer is simple: help facilitate data. The work behind the answer, of course, is not so simple. From what I’ve experienced thus far, whether that be through research or interactions with companies through projects or conferences, there are three main things a company needs to focus on in order to help make the composite recycling database, and composite recycling in general, a reality. First, companies need to change their perception of scrap. Most companies call it “waste.” It cannot be thought of in that way. This material holds value. If it’s thought of as waste, then it will be treated as such. Most operators or handlers will let it fall to the floor, perhaps not worrying about stepping on it here and there, or even may throw it in with other types of “waste” that may ruin its integrity. Scrap needs to be thought of as a front-runner alongside raw materials when contemplating a new product. Utilizing scrap compared to virgin materials has its benefits even excluding costs. “Scrap” is definitely a better term than “waste.” Second, each company needs to take a stance on sustainability or even make it a priority and mandate it in their facility. Third, companies in our industry need to be educated about the types of scrap, the methods for preparing them for reuse (shredding, grinding, pyrolysis, solvolysis, etc.), and the various processing methods (compounding, extrusion-compression, etc.). This calls for companies to be willing to work with research facilities like the Materials Processing Applications Development (MPAD) Center here at UAB. These companies can provide a sampling of their scrap and at UAB we can do all the in between work including testing for mechanical properties. On a small scale, the MPAD can help companies work towards implementing a successful recycling program in their facility, all the while helping the recycling sector of the composite’s industry grow with their contribution to the database.
How do you think creating more sustainable composite products will advance the industry?
Creating more sustainable composite products will open up a secondary market in the industry where composite scrap that was previously being landfilled can now be stretched to a greater number of applications. Not to mention, the companies that participate will become more profitable by cutting out specific costs (landfill tipping fees, storage and transportation fees, legislative fees, etc.) and potentially bring in revenue from the secondary product. Reusing composite scrap will increase the market share in industries where sustainability/recyclability is mandated much like LEED building materials.