Huddle Today: Thermopak and UdeM Researcher Adding Value and Efficiency to Plastics Recycling

As much as plastic recycling is becoming more widely adopted and accessible, things aren’t moving quite fast enough for Bernard Morin.

As president of Thermopak Ltd., a packaging company based in Shippagan, Morin is on a personal mission to keep empty plastic milk jugs out of landfills with help from Mitacs researcher and electrical engineering Université de Moncton PhD student Rahma Zayoud.

Morin says the need to make plastic milk jug recycling more available is a pressing one. He explains the majority of the province’s 72 recycling centres do not include milk jugs on their list of recyclable items. Morin wants to change this by making collection more efficient and providing an incentive for the recycling.

“A lot of people still throw them away and a lot of recycling centres don’t pick them up,” Morin says. “My project total is to add value to plastic material we throw in the garbage today. It could be anything from milk jugs to grocery bags that are not even collected today because there is no value to recycling them.”

Morin says since it’s often cheaper for industries to use virgin material than recycled material, adding value to recycled materials is crucial to making recycling more common.

Zayoud is working with Thermopak to develop a smart system of milk jug recycling bins that incorporate advanced radio-frequency identification (RFID) and wifi technology to easily track the location of the bins and detect when they’re full. The bins will be strategically placed at commercial malls or recycling centres and will communicate the information over wifi.

Zayoud says the technology is all about improving the efficiency of recycling.

“This project may reduce the large volumes of recycled or non-recycled waste,” she says. “We also plan to use web-based technology to track all recovery trucks remotely in real time in order to check the status of each recycling bin (full or not) remotely and calculate the shortest path that connects only the full recycling bins and trace that path to the driver on the recovery truck display.”

The technology is expected to be launched in a pilot project by next year. In the meantime, Thermopak is also working on a project to use the plastic recovered from milk jugs to produce a new material strong enough to be used in the construction industry.

“We can convert this into an advanced material and then that advanced material would be used, for example, for a signpost. Instead of using a metal post, you can use a material made from recycled plastic that would be strong enough that it would give the same strength characteristic that you would have with a metal one or a wood post,” Morin says.

“You would use a plastic one from recycled material that would have the advantage of being able to sustain more weathering, be able to stay in the environment longer, with the advantage of being able to recycle it again.”

Morin explains that plastic can be recycled many times. At the end of its life in one form, it can be turned back into resin, put through the process again and made into another value-added product.

“The philosophy behind the whole thing for me is I don’t believe plastic should go underground,” he says, “All plastic should have a way of being recycled it and should have a way of making it value-added and reusing it all the time.”

Byline: Cara Smith