Canadian plant tests better way to recycle plastic

Tue Jun 21, 2011 12:00pm EDT
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By Allison Martell

TORONTO (Reuters) - A small Canadian company is trying to change the way some plastic is recycled with an pilot plant that will test a new process to reuse the polystyrene that makes coffee cups, food trays and packing material.

Switchable Solutions Inc, a joint venture commercializing the new recycling method, said its industrial-scale pilot should begin operation in about a year.

It will be able to recycle 2,000 tonnes of polystyrene a year in a process the company says is more environmentally friendly than existing methods.

Right now, very little polystyrene is recycled.

"It's just being thrown out with landfill, which we think is a crime," said Philip Jessop, the chemistry professor from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, who invented the new technology.

Polystyrene is difficult to recycle because it contains so much air and tends to be contaminated with food waste and chemicals. Jessop said most current recycling methods need to heat solvents to make them work, while his reusable solvent only needs room-temperature exposure to carbon dioxide and air.

"It's bad because it takes a lot of energy, and because it needs the solvent to be volatile. There's fire risk, flammability, smog formation risk, inhalation hazards to the workers," he said.

The company is exploring uses for the solvent in Canada's oil sands, where Jessop said it could in theory extract oil without creating hard-to-dispose of toxic tailings.   Continued...