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Turn waste plastic into 3D filament, says Australian inventor

The UNSW professor who invented ‘green steel’ technology that diverts millions of vehicle tyres from landfill says her new Microfactory technology creates a circular economy where materials are kept in use for as long as possible and can help local manufacturers create new products.

veema ceramic tiles 1

Professor Veena Sahajwalla, director UNSW Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT), with glass waste ceramic tiles.

University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney’s Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla says the plan is a ready-made answer to the nation’s current waste and recycling crisis.  The inventor and engineer commended the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) for recently agreeing to establish a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, while building Australia’s capacity to generate high value recycled commodities, demand and capability in industry.

“But I can’t help thinking that scientifically developed methods such as our Microfactory TM technology is ready to go from lab scale to commercial scale to accelerate the COAG goals,” she said.

“Importantly, this type of microrecycling science not only addresses the waste and environmental issues, but creates a whole new circular economy where materials are kept in use for as long as possible and can help local manufacturers create new products and items from reformed waste.”

Professor Veena and her team of scientists, engineers and experts in microrecycling science have invented processes that can reform waste items like glass and textiles including clothing into flat ceramic building products, and can also transform electronic waste into valuable plastic filament for 3D printing and metal alloys.

“This coordinated decision to ban the exporting of our recyclable materials to countries that are increasingly resistant to taking our waste is a real game-changer in terms of enabling the spread of home-grown research innovations for the benefit of local industries,” Sahajwalla said.

“We can take almost all waste plastic and turn it into a new, highly valuable commodity, 3D plastic filament, which is now mostly imported from overseas. We can deploy this Microfactory TM technology in rural and regional areas where waste is stockpiled and bring local industries and councils together to create new solutions.”

Professor Nicholas Fisk, UNSW Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), said: “It’s time to rethink attitudes to all of the materials we discard and instead see them as renewable resources if we want to reduce our reliance on finite resources.”