I enjoy pretty much everything there is that has to do with the outdoors. Some of my most peaceful moments have been while walking through the forest, sitting on a beach, or boating (minus the loud engine). Accordingly I have a great respect for nature and enjoy learning about the plants and wildlife therein. My plan is to continue that learning process and hopefully enhance it by sharing what I learn. I intend for this blog to serve many purposes, but in the immediate future it will be a place for me, and hopefully others, to share ideas about reducing our individual impact on this planet, protecting wild spaces, and in general just to comment on the things we enjoy most in the great outdoors. I welcome all opinions as otherwise you cannot consider every aspect of a subject. However, I would ask that every opinion be expressed in a respectful way and considered with an open mind. Often there is no single right answer. Thanks.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

From Plastic to Altwood Lumber

I am always interested to learn what happens to recyclable materials after I take them to Pacific Mobile Depots, or leave them in my curbside bin.  For one type of material at least, I actually know the answer.  After I mentioned Syntal in my post on January 8 I contacted the manager, Brian Burchill, who is an acquaintance of mine.  I wanted to pick his brain about how the company is doing, and get a refresher on how the plastic recycling process works at their plant.  Syntal has been around since 1998 but has suffered, in part, due to a lack of a reliable supply of clean plastic. 

In order to produce its Altwood Lumber Syntal can only use certain types of plastic.  Milk jugs, laundry detergent containers, and shampoo bottles are some of the examples, but essentially they will accept anything in categories, 1, 2, 4, or 5.  The crinkly plastic containers that your spring mix salad, strawberries, or deli sandwiches come in is not the right type.  You should set that aside for your blue box, or take it to Pacific Mobile Depots.  If you want to recycle things like car seats, old plastic wagons, or buckets you must ensure that all metal parts are removed first.  The other important point to remember is that the plastic must be clean and dry, i.e. all oils, liquid detergent, lotions, gels, etc removed.

Sometimes I find that it is hard to follow a process when you do not fully understand the reasons behind its creation.  So, for anyone like me, here is some insight as to why it must be metal-free, clean, and dry.  The first step the plastic goes through is essentially a shredder, which cuts the plastic into ribbons.  As you can imagine a piece of metal at this stage would damage the blades and down goes your machinery.  Then the plastic is put through a grinder which renders the plastic into pellets.  During the shredding and grinding stages dust is formed, therefore, any significant moisture can create clumps and/or cause the dust to stick in pipes.  I think the clean part is self explanatory.  For example, it would be hard to shred and grind a plastic peanut butter, or mayonnaise container, if it was still gummed up with either of those substances.  After the shredding and grinding the plastic is melted into molds to form standard sized lumber.

This lumber can be used to build such things as planters, outdoor furniture, sundecks or fences.  If I can get my wooden, raised veggie garden to grow I will likely need to replace the wood within the next couple of years.  Altwood has been approved by the Pacific Agricultural Certification Society (PACS) for use by organic growers as it does not leach.  I am also currently working on getting some Altwood benches put into the school courtyard at my childrens' school.  I think it would be great for the kids to see what the end result of recycling can be. 

Now, back to the supply problem that I mentioned in the beginning.  When the CRD began collecting rigid plastics I figured that Syntal would be getting this supply.  I was surprised to learn that is not the case.  The glass, metal, and plastic, that are collected are mixed together in the recycling truck.  Given that Syntal is not equipped to mechanically sort out any metals or glass that become stuck in the plastic they are unable to accept the curbside pickups.  Also, the CRD has a contract with Metro Waste Paper Company, which does not expire until 2012.  Metro Waste sends all of the things we recycle at the curb to buyers on the mainland where some of the plastic is then shipped overseas.  Syntal's largest regular supply of separated plastic comes from Nanaimo and the Gulf Islands. Syntal also has a bin at it's location on the corner of Keating Cross Road and Bertram Place where you can drop off your plastics for free.  Unfortunately, some people treat this bin as a dumpster.  Please note: anything that is not useable plastic will be sent to the landfill so do not dump your stuff here hoping that Syntal will sort and recycle it for you.

Fortunately, things seem to be looking up in the supply and demand department.  Syntal is currently under contract to provide 2x6's for walls designed to control the flood waters of Lynn Creek in North Vancouver.  This project will utilize over 60 tonnes of scrap plastic.  Currently, you can purchase Altwood lumber at Lumberworld, and Slegg Lumber in Sidney as well as several other locations mid-island, and in the lower mainland. 

Over the last few months Syntal has had some great media exposure and more individuals and companies are starting to redirect plastic to their facility.  Some examples are plastic pallets from an import company, hard hats from the construction industry, and damaged trash totes.  Hopefully the supply will keep coming and this company can continue it's growth.  Keep Syntal in mind for your hard plastics.  Store them up, chat with some like-minded neighbours, and take turns driving them out to their facility.  Just remember: metal-free, clean, and dry.

Besides the information I got from Brian directly here is a link to a Times Colonist article that he directed me to: The pursuit for plastics

1 comment:

  1. FYI for anyone reading I have edited the post regarding the Altwood lumber from Syntal to include a couple of suggestions from Brian, including the fact that Altwood is safe to use in your veggie garden. Thanks.