Recycling research at home
Domestic recycling research
Project Status: Ongoing
|Website||The site of experimentation into domestic recycling.|
|Description||The site of experimentation into domestic recycling.|
|Location||Melbourne, Victoria, Australia|
|Public Access||Private domicile, no public access.|
|Jurisdiction||City of Stonnington|
|Categories||Waste interception, Domestic recycling, Recycling research|
|Material's processed||Hard plastic, Soft Plastic, E-Waste, Steel, Aluminium, Copper, Glass, Paper and cardboard, Kitchen scraps, Garden scraps, Wood scraps|
|Produce||Coffee Fire Logs, Paper fire logs, Firewood, Planter boxes, Fertiliser, Repaired electronics|
As part of ongoing research into recycling methods, and alternative economics, various occupants of a small apartment building in Windsor have been collecting and/or repurposing various materials that would normally be discarded of as waste, or through regular council recycling streams. Initial efforts began in part because of the Recycling crisis of 2018-2019, and some simultaneous requirements for certain recoverable materials, as well as a desire to help find solutions to climate change, though sorted plastic from 3D printing had been collected by one of the tenants businesses for years beforehand. A major part of the goal is to develop and document some cooperative methods for waste reduction in similar buildings, that can be economically rationalised.
There are 5 apartments, and there has been between 7 and 12 residents over the course of the project, though most of the work is carried out by the author of this article. Elements of the project, explained in more detail below include the provision of additional bins for sorting of materials such as Soft Plastic, the construction of raised garden beds, and composting efforts via the website Sharewaste.
- 1 Processing on site or off site
- 2 Plastics
- 3 E-waste
- 4 Metals
- 5 Glass & Ceramics
- 6 Organic material
- 7 Water
- 8 Communication & Future plans
Processing on site or off site
Many materials are processed on site, via various DIY techniques. Others are collected and sorted, then taken to third party delivery points.
A small, old steel bin is provided for residents to put their soft plastics into. These materials are bundled and collected as the bin fulls, and taken to a nearby Coles or Woolworths supermarket, and put into the Red Cycle bins at those locations. By providing residents with a separate bin for soft plastics they are encouraged to not put these plastics into the regular curbside recycling bin, which is a common mistake, that leads to contamination and issues with the conveyors at sorting facilities. When the incorrect items are placed in this bin, they are placed into the correct bin.
Hard plastics enter the waste stream via a the large red general recycling bin, from the author's 3D printing business Mortar Art, and as a result of dismantling some E-waste. When there is storage capacity materials are sorted by their resin identification code into a variety of bins. This process has been hampered by a lack of storage space and the large volume to weight ratio of many plastic products. Shredding on site may be a good solution for buildings attempting to reduce their waste footprint in this way. Some PET and HDPE bottles have been set aside for use in home brewing, and as pots for plants.
In January 2021, research began into the process of shredding plastic at Rethink Recycling, using their V4 Precious Plastic shredder. The initial attempt resulted in a machine failure, due to the bolts that hold the top plate being incorrectly installed by the assembler. The holes for the bolts were extended to protrude through the metal bars the shredder rests on, with the bolts put all the way through. Reassembling the machine in the correct fashion resolved the issue with operation, where the top plate began to bend under pressure from built up plastic between the teeth, while using the fine grate.
Precious Plastics Bricks
As part of the process of developing content for Recyclopaedia, and of finding a useful product to create out of hard plastic, the authors, Recyclopaedia, and Rethink Recycling began experimentation with the production of the Precious Plastics Brick in January 2021. RR provided the brick molds, and have a shredder and extruder, which are the tools utilised by the design team (Recycle Rebuild) who worked with Precious Plastics for the V4 release. However there is a lack of documentation on experimentation with other materials and production methods, so early work is focusing first on simple methods of manufacture, working through to more complex methods, as well as the difficulties in utilising a variety of materials.
Currently only expanded polystyrene from the author's apartment is collected on site. Stonnington's Waste Transfer Station presently accepts expanded polystyrene free of charge. Inspired by a joint study between researchers in China and at Stanford University a small mealworm farm was established in early 2020, which has steadily been processing the onsite Polystyrene into compost. The colony is on approximately it's third generation now, though it ran into substantial issues early on when mold took over due to a lack of air circulation. Mealworms fed around 10% E-PS by weight consume double the amount of plastic as compared to mealworms fed 100% E-PS according to further research by the same team..
The author has experimented with the collection of E-waste from the local neighbourhood, either through social media or via intercepting it during hard rubbish. These experiments were spurred on by another neighbour who has been collecting E-waste to find particular components, and the realisation that many components in the 3D printers utilised by the author can be found in E-waste. Much of this E-waste was fully disassembled, and sorted into various sub-categories, in order to determine the value of this process. The large amount of steel and plastic recovered in these steps resulted in a shift in priorities due to a lack of sufficient storage, and E-waste experiments are on hold. At present only a small amount of E-waste is being intercepted from the apartments kerbside bins, while the storage situation remains unresolved. Once volume reduction for hard plastic (described above) begins in earnest, the residents of the apartment will be asked to bring all E-waste to the author's apartment for scrapping.
The categories of recovered materials sorted into separate boxes or bins during E-waste disassembly included:
* Lithium batteries * Steel * Aluminium * Copper * Insulated wire * Circuitboards * Valuable circuitry (RAM sticks, processors) * Power supplies * Stepper motors * Various other motors * Ink cartridges * Switches and sensors * Springs * Various hard plastics * Glass plates * Fluorescent tubes
A number of items were in working or near working condition and were stored separately or put to use, including a laptop, a number of monitors, and printers. When experiments resume on E-waste recycling, a separate article dedicated to this process will be created and each of the above materials will be described in more depth. Additionally, a number of conceptual products have been designed, such as the E-waste E-bike to illustrate ways in which many of these components can be re-purposed. Many other designers have contributed ways to recycle E-waste such as making your own portable speakers.
Aluminium is currently collected in a separate large bin. A magnet is provided on the bin to differentiate between aluminium and steel. Cans are crushed before being placed in the bin. A forge is being constructed in order to produce lost-PLA cast parts on site. These are parts that use a pattern produced on a 3D printer, that are made out of aluminium, or other metals. These parts may then be used as molds for injection molding at Rethink Recycling. Some useful aluminium parts have also been recovered, such as 4040 aluminium extrusions that will be utilised in the construction of a micro-lift.
Steel was collected in a separate large bin, for eventual sale, but due to the low price upon collection it was eventually abandoned to kerbside recycling. Some steel cans have been repurposed as planters for radishes and other small vegetables. Other steel pieces have been used in the construction of garden beds and similar items. At some point the author will begin learning to weld and plasma cut, in order to produce more advanced recycling tools. Scrap steel will provide work pieces for use during practice. Steel food cans can be used as one off crucibles during aluminium forging, or melting of other low temperature metals. Steel cans have a small percentage of tin as a coating, which is a much more valuable. When combined with aluminium, it reduces it's rate of corrosion.
Copper is collected on occasion, where it presents itself, and is stored for eventual scrapping or use in electronics projects.
Glass & Ceramics
Most glass is collected in the regular kerbside wheelie bin. The author intercepts large, dark coloured glass bottles, such as long neck beer and wine bottles for use in home brewing. As Victoria has announced that there will be a 10c bottle refund policy in future, glass bottles that can't be reused will be collected and stored. Glass that doesn't fit a useful purpose, or meet the requirements for the refund policy will be crushed into aggregate for concrete, along with broken porcelain. A glass crushing machine without a motor has been acquired by a member of Recyclopaedia and will be utilised for this purpose when repaired.
As local government does not currently accept kitchen scraps in their optional organic waste bines a smaller round bin is provided for residents to put kitchen scraps into. This helps reduce methane emissions from landfill sites, and provides a constant supply of material for the author's compost bin, which in turn feeds his garden. A number of neighbours (from other addresses) have gotten in touch via Share Waste and they continue to drop off foodscraps and often the content of their bokashi bins. Presently with this amount of fresh compost being cycled on site, the author has so many vegetables he gives them away to neighbours. The owner and another neighbour maintain their own compost piles for their own gardening activities.
Used Coffee grounds and rendered animal fat
Coffee grounds are currently kept separate to other kitchen scraps. They are currently utilised only with plants that require high acidity in the soil, and are added to gardens at the same time as seeds are planted. Dried, smouldering coffee grounds work as an excellent mosquito repellent. This is easiest to achieve with a wick, and some wax either by sprinkling the grounds on a tealight candle, or by finding wax separately and making candles that are approximately 50% coffee grounds by weight.
The bulk of used coffee grounds are used in rough fire bricks made using the following method:
1. Dry spent coffee grounds at the next opportunity are cooked when meals are being prepared.
2. Place scrap paper on the bottom of a cast iron pot.
3. Pour in coffee grounds.
4. Pour roughly 1/6th as much animal fat by volume on top.
5. Add a little candle wax if you have any spare.
6. Place a lid over the pot, making sure that the paper is inside the pot.
7. Cook the pot in the oven at the next opportunity.
The resulting "brick" is easy to cut with a knife, but can be a bit crumbly without much candle wax or animal fat to bind it together. This isn't much of a bother in an outdoor BBQ. I just build a bed of small sticks to start the fire, and place chunks of this product on top of it. A brick the size of a soft drink can was enough to cook sausages on a frying pan for a few people.
Wax from the coatings of cheese is now going to be collected, and placed inside a recycled food tin, and placed in the oven for melting, either for candle production or for the coffee fire bricks.
Hard organic materials
Materials such as bones, and oyster shells are generally kept separate and are crushed before being added to the compost. During Summer, it is possible to dry these rapidly using the solar oven, though this is unnecessary when they are put into compost quickly. Combined with ash, and other organic fertilisers, crushed bone meal can be very beneficial for gardens and can increase yield. Chicken bones can easily be ground into bonemeal with a regular blender, though running the blender for extended amounts of time can result in malfunction due to overheating. Shells from seafood can be used to produce quicklime, with many applications, including as an additive for improving concrete.
Bulk garden scraps are left in a pile to dry. Soft material is eventually composted, and wood may be used in future in a BBQ, or buried deep underground to decompose and add carbon to the soil.
Another pile is kept for timber. Some of this wood is intercepted from neigbours during hard rubbish, or from businesses that throw out pallets such as Bunning's. This timber is recycled into garden boxes.
Paper and cardboard
As Stonnington used to have a separate bin for paper and cardboard the practice was maintained by the owner of the building. The bin is presently taken by the same kerbside recycling truck that takes the glass bin, however due to the high rate of contamination caused by mixing paper with other recycling, other applications for this material will be investigated. Various cardboard items are intercepted already from this bin for gardening applications, however, figuring out a way to get this paper smoothly into a recycling stream that produces fresh paper may be ideal, as this would help reduce demand for Victoria's dwindling forestry stocks. One potential avenue is the separate, commercial Visy collections for neighbouring commercial buildings. No approach has been made yet on this matter.
To produce pulp for various recycling experiments, paper has been left in a large waterproof tub, with grey water from the washing machine pumped into it for 2 weeks; overflowing into the bathtub. A paper brick tool is used to compress paper pulp into fire bricks. Glossy paper and magazines should not be used for these purposes as they release toxic fumes when burned.
According to some information online, egg cartons in particular are not readily recycled as they have been through a few recycling processes. As such, they're being used for other processes as much as possible. They make good seed trays, as the paper breaks down with watering, and doesn't obstruct the plant's growth after it's put in a larger pot. They're also being used to create coffee ground mosquito repellent candles. Currently, many of these egg trays are added to the compost, to help with the supply of "brown" materials; a requirement for a healthy compost.
Grey water is collected manually for gardening purposes.
Communication & Future plans
At present communication between the residents is largely informal and casual. Stickers have been placed on the various bins to indicate their intended use. In future more explicit communication may be required as the experiments are becoming larger in scope, and the scale of work is more visible. If the experiments described above prove successful, and it is possible to process most of the waste from the apartment for profit, contacting people in neighbouring buildings to ask if they are motivated to participate with the various categories of waste may be considered, however this is likely to have more visible impacts for the residents of the apartment building. In the long term, developing and documenting the methods used in this research will hopefully mean that it's possible to encourage other people both locally and more broadly to engage in similar behaviours. Eventually, these local hubs may prove to be a good source of raw materials for local industries, with communication made possible via the proposed Recyclopaedia network.
- ↑ https://news.stanford.edu/pr/2015/pr-worms-digest-plastics-092915.html
- ↑ https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0045653517317022
- ↑ https://www.scorchworks.com/Foundry/foundry.html
- ↑ https://www.therogueginger.com/2015/08/reuse-cheese-wax.html
- ↑ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOhAfaFboNU