WATCH | A California-based company has come up with a way to "upcycle" the plastic we use every day and turn it into building blocks that may one day be used to build homes and community centers.
ByFusion wants to take the influx of plastic that escapes waste management systems and ends up polluting waterways.
Engineer Peter Lewis designed the ByFusion machine, which transforms plastic into building blocks, while trying to come up with a building material to combat earthquakes.
Lewis, who lives in New Zealand, started out creating a technology that used straw bales but then decided to take plastic, shred it down small enough and use the same techniques to make plastic blocks called RePlast.
ByFusion creates the blocks using a process called thermal reset.
"It's not necessarily melting the plastic but we heat it to the point where the chemistry of the plastic changes enough that when you cool it down, it actually binds together," Heidi Kujawa, the president of ByFusion, explained. "So it's a non-toxic process and we use steam and compression to create these blocks."
Kujawa added that plastic gets a bad rap, but it's waste management systems that are the real problem.
The thing that is most important about this right now, is that it not only that it helps a historic issue, but it solves a futuristic issue too.
Most of us use plastic in some shape or form every single day, but we don't often think about the impact that plastic has on the environment.
In 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that Americans generated 33 million tons of plastic per year.
Kujawa said that plastic is an amazing material and ByFusion is just working to create a way to leverage it in a way that won't negatively impact the environment.
ByFusion utilizes all seven types of plastic, which include:
- Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)
- High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
- Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
- Polypropylene (PP)
- Polystyrene (PS)
I think the big value that we bring to the marketplace is also that we're handling all types of plastic.
Most people only pluck out two or three types and the rest ends up in landfills, or worse, is incinerated.
The ByFusion machine is self-contained, which means it can be shipped anywhere.
The technology hasn't quite made it to the U.S. market, but it's on its way.
Right now, the approximately 20-pound blocks look like a cinderblock and can be assembled in a similar way.
Kujawa said the company is currently experimenting with what the exterior of the RePlast blocks will look like. The company recommends that the blocks are clad in some type of stucco or drywall.
Kujawa added that the company is planning to work with local governments so they can use RePlast to revitalize their communities.
The idea is to take plastic waste from a local community and use it to rebuild parks and community centers.
Right now, ByFusion is focused on non-critical infrastructure but hopes to build homes with RePlast in the future.
Kujawa said she hopes the technology will help clean up communities worldwide.