Single-stream recycling at Midwest Fiber Recycling in Normal is able to recover about 92-95% of the material they receive. However, the 5-8% that must be sent to the landfill represents a large volume of material. Much of this is plastic that is not currently recyclable. Henson Disposal, the second major recycler in town, also generates significant plastic waste but this has not been quantified. Two potential uses for this material have recently been identified.
One is incorporating the material in concrete building materials (see http://inhabitat.com/plastic-concrete-repurposes-landfill-waste-into-building-bricks/, or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SWaSWP_muo) .
The other is incorporating the plastic with wood waste to make a fuel that can be co-fired with coal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants (see “Wood Residuals Solutions” in http://www.istc.illinois.edu/about/seminarpresentations/20140425.pdf). This may be particularly applicable to Bloomington/Normal due to the presence of nearby wood-waste-to-fuel facility, Chip Energy.
Finding a local, value-added use for this landfill-bound plastic could be both environmentally and economically beneficial for McLean County. Cleaning and preparing the plastic waste may represent an opportunity for a new or expanded local business.
Competencies needed by faculty and students involved
Construction – technical specifications for construction materials.
Recycling/materials processing – production of non-recyclable plastic and cleaning/processing the material for use or sale.
Business and economics – assessing supply, demand, revenue and costs for a new business in plastic preparation.
Legal – could relate to state permitting of plastic-wood fuel for power plant combustion.
An assessment of the technical, legal, and economic feasibility of using locally-produced non-recyclable plastic in local concrete, wood-chip briquettes, or other product.