Need a plan to safely deal with dirty plastic waste
December 9, 2019 10:37 PM   Subscribe

Every morning I go for a walk at a nearby estuary nature reserve. I pick up the rubbish that blows in or is washed up. This stuff is too dirty to recycle and at the moment the only place I can dispose of it is the municipal garbage. Is there a way I can bind this rubbish into bricks, or lump it together somehow so that even if it DOES end up as landfill, it at least won't spread around into the surrounding ecosystem again?

I've already checked with the local organisations I can find, the people who regularly do cleanups of this kind, and they say "at the moment the best thing is to put it in the garbage, no other solution available".
I can't wash this rubbish so it becomes recyclable - apart from time constraints, I live in Cape Town, South Africa, and water is a limited resource. I already mash my own clean, dry non-recyclable waste into ecobricks (ram everything into plastic bottles which hopefully gets used in building projects by the organisations that use ecobricks) but this stuff is extremely dirty and wet. As in, covered in sulfurous, greasy muck, so any ecobricking I do with it probably won't get accepted by the ecobrick people.
What are my alternatives to just dumping this stuff in the garbage? Is there a substance I can use to bind it together, that is 1)not harmful in itself and won't break down over time 2) can be done without special equipment 3)hopefully not expensive? I'm thinking if this stuff is bound together somehow, at least all these freaky little tiny bits of plastic I'm picking up won't degrade into even smaller freaky bits of plastic and spread merrily about again.
What I'm picking up is everything from plastic drink bottles (those I can re-purpose into ecobricks so not so much of a problem), polystyrene cups and containers, plastic and foil packets of all sizes, plastic bottle caps, and random tiny scraps and bits of plastic so worn down who knows what it used to be.
(I already know that what I'm doing is futile and that the only answer is activism and getting legislative level change to force the people who produce the waste to not produce it, and to force them to help with cleaning it up so please don't try to discourage me from continuing to pick up the horrible stuff in our beautiful nature reserve, I'm going to go on doing it anyway.)
posted by Zumbador to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Could you crumb it and melt it together?
posted by freethefeet at 11:47 PM on December 9, 2019

There are numerous "Hand Hay Baler" (for making old-style small straw bales) ideas on the web, although you would need some kind of netting or bag\sack to contain both the whole compressed mass 'blocks', as well as all the small items. IDK how much space you have but baling it would sure save some space.

If I was doing it and could find some old free 200litre drums I would think about compressing all the waste into a drum (just punching some holes in base first to drain - drainage again is an issue -some of this stuff is nasty). In the past I've cut the lids off old drums using a hammer and cold-chisel when I didn't have a gas-axe.

I can't find it right now but a few years back I found a fine homebuilding magazine article where they were baling (probably dirty) plastic waste and using it for house basement walls\foundation walls - they were wrapping them to stop out-gassing.
posted by unearthed at 12:08 AM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Don't your local landfills do this for you? At least in the US, landfill waste often gets compacted into giant bricks that you can carry around with a forklift.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 5:44 AM on December 10, 2019 [5 favorites]

maybe a smaller scale version of this (pdf)?

here is a page about some DIY-scale waste processing machines.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:19 AM on December 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

I hadn't heard of ecobricks until you mentioned it, but apparently there are ocean ecobricks that do exactly this. Not sure if anyone around you is going to make use of them, but it's something they are developing.
posted by advicepig at 7:27 AM on December 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

I know it's more plastic, but you could put it into bags so it at least makes it to the landfill intact.
posted by pinochiette at 7:28 AM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Modern landfills seem at least reasonably competent at containing trash; that is their One Job, after all. I think the real problem is in the getting there. So just bundling or bagging the trash together--particularly lightweight items that tend to blow away--would be a good step.

Plastic bags are very common as litter, so if you pick up one of those first, then use it as a trash bag to put other items in, and finish by securely knotting the bag, I'd imagine that would get to the landfill in good order. HDPE bags (despite cashiers everywhere thinking they have to double-bag the most trivial items) are impressively tough. Which is sort of the biggest problem with them, but you might as well use it to your advantage in this instance.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:15 AM on December 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

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