Will Anderson: The Green House

Why a plastic sandwich could be the tastiest thing in recycling - if you've got the bottle
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The Independent Online

Do you take the lids off plastic bottles before putting them in your recycling bin? If you don't, the bottles are less likely to be recycled because bottle and lid are made from different plastics and current methods require their separation before any reprocessing can take place. Such bottles are ecologically ugly, designed for a linear life ending in landfill rather than a cyclical life of reuse.

Our world is full of such ugly products. If you shred a fridge, you can recover the metals but you are left with a pile of plastics. To become truly cyclical, most of our products will need serious redesign. But making all the mechanics, electrics and finishes of a fridge with only one plastic is never going to be easy. Innovation is needed, therefore, in the methods of recovery as well as in the design process.

For a great example of such innovation, look to Caerphilly, where I visited a spanking new production line that turns mixed plastics of all types into moulded products with almost unlimited development potential.

The process, called Powder Impression Moulding (PIM), is relatively simple. Whereas plastics are typically recycled using high-pressure injection-moulding systems, PIM relies on little more than a giant sandwich-maker. The two outer layers of the sandwich are virgin polymer - brand new plastic - between which the more substantial filling is cooked; a finely ground powder made from up to 100 per cent recycled mixed plastics. Then the filling expands in the oven, aided by the secret PIM baking powder. The final product is strong, light and any colour you desire.

At the end of the production line, the cyclical credentials of the PIM process become clear. Unlike cakes and sandwiches, which must be fed to the birds or composted if they don't turn out as expected, any unwanted PIM output can be fed back into the next production run.

The process and the plant are very new, but 3DM, the company that has developed the process (029-2088 5937; www.3dmworldwide.com), is forging links with commercial partners who like the look of its sandwich-maker. As the feedstock is very cheap, the process can reduce the costs of manufacturing as well. In time, the plastic doghouse in the corner of the factory ought to be joined by roof tiles, drainage pipes, scaffold boards, hoardings, cladding, decking and emergency housing - and that's just a few possibilities in the construction industry.

Unfortunately, even when a new process is as unassailable as PIM, turning it into a commercial success is hard work. Most of us like to stick to our favourite cheese-and-onion toastie rather than try a new sandwich. So if you are involved in manufacturing, why not do something different? Do get in touch with 3DM and see whether its filling is to your liking.

In the meantime, keep binning those yoghurt pots and removing those milk bottle lids. Let's hope we don't wait too long before even the ugliest of bottles is made beautiful by the south Wales sandwich men.


Carpet Burns recycles old carpets into a bright new material with great interior-design potential. Its coasters, ashtrays and notebooks are available from www.carpet-burns.com or Ecotopia ( www.ecotopia.co.uk).


The complete guide to salvage yards in Britain - reuse before you recycle ( www.salvo.co.uk).