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Recycling in Cuba: getting down to business

Around 100 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year, of which eight million end up in the oceans. The question is, what can we do to make real use of it and help people?

 

Marnie Fiallo Gómez

 

In view of the amount of plastic that does not get recycled or reused, Cuban engineer Joaquín Cuetara will conduct research on it use, with a specific focus on using Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) in the process of manufacturing concrete.

Speaking to Prensa Latina, Cuetara stated that eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean each year, and it is expected that this amount will outweigh the total mass of fish in the sea by 2050. PET containers are the least sustainable because once used, they are thrown away and end up in landfills and oceans, when they last between 500 and one thousand years because this the material is not recognised and thus not digested by bacteria.

In Cuba, one of the measures adopted to reduce environmental impact is Law 1288, which obliges legal entities to recycle any waste material generated in their production processes or in the process of rendering services.

On adding up to one percent of PET to the concrete in the form of scales, the resistance to compression and porosity was tested, and its quality was not affected.

For this reason, this versatile way of reusing plastic waste is gaining prominence around the world.

In his research, Cuetara used ordinary Portland cement corresponding to the category P-350, aggregates of natural origin, and PET fragments cut manually to between two and four centimetres. For the test, the established standards were applied using cylindrical sample test pieces, and the results showed no differences between the conventional concrete and those with added PET.

Cuetara announced upcoming tests with a higher quantity of plastic incorporated into the concrete; this research can offer a practical solution to prevent PET from being dumped into the oceans and therefore help to keep them clean.

Around the world…

This research has a history in other international studies, such as that conducted by Australian university James Cook, which aimed to reduce the amount of steel used, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and the use of fossil fuels.

The first tests of the so-called Australian ‘green concrete’ proved its strength for use in prefabricated parts such as drainage tubes and low load applications such as signage for footpaths.

Meanwhile, in the Dominican Republic, a group of students from the Technological Institute in Santo Domingo proved the viability of using ABS plastic waste as an aggregate in manufacturing concrete blocks. In Ghana, blocks made up of 60% plastic and 40% sand are used to build motorways, an initiative that allows for the technological possibility of using large amounts of waste.

In the first stage of the idea’s practical application, the Ministry of Environment of Ghana installed this type of paving stone in one district, and plans to support Nelplasten in expanding the project.

For this plans the company directly or indirectly employs more than 230 people.

According to social activists, the implementation of these plans should be immediately result in provisions to transform the poor state of the streets and eradicate the mountains of non-recycled plastic waste, which are also linked to public health, thus solving several problems at once.

Development strategy 2018-2030

One of the government’s ideas to integrate the recycling development strategy in Cuba is to by increasing the added value of recyclable waste with better classification, compaction and better processing in the period 2018-2030.

It also highlights the need to continue work in strategic sectors that have a direct effect on recycling, such as construction, tourism and the food industry.

Another objective is to introduce door-to-door recyclable waste collection services, mainly in the main provincial cities, and promote this system among self-employed workers.

Equally important is to establish a telephone number and email via which people can request the collection service at no cost. It is also key to organise collection campaigns for large-scale events such as concerts, popular holidays, festivals, and other events.

(Translated by Lucy Daghorn – Email: lucy.daghorn@gmail.com) – Photos: Pixabay

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