Can you solve a WasteAid challenge?

Bottle sorting by Shahicar Amin | entry to WasteAid’s 2019 Wonders of Waste competition

WasteAid tackles waste management challenges in developing countries, finding simple ways to help people recycle or dispose of waste safely and sustainably. The award-winning WasteAid Toolkit contains 12 illustrated how-to guides for turning waste into wealth – but there are some common waste streams we still don’t know how to deal with. WasteAid’s Zoë Lenkiewicz takes a closer look.

To harness the strength of the global community of waste managers, engineers, scientists and students, WasteAid is sharing these challenges online, and is welcoming involvement from anyone who can help.

Whether you are looking for real-world team building activities, student recycling projects or green design challenges, solving a WasteAid challenge is a great opportunity to be part of something bigger.

Before we get started, here are some helpful ground rules:

  • The cheaper the better: £500 can be unaffordable where people are living in extreme poverty.
  • The simpler the better: keep processes and instructions straightforward.
  • Avoid needing items like “old electric ovens” as these can be very hard to come by.
  • Avoid processes that require a large amount or unbroken supply of electricity.

This is your chance to contribute ideas for a cleaner, healthier and more equitable world. We are looking for ideas that can be replicated in villages, towns and cities around the world to help people in poverty create wealth from common waste materials.

Energy: Sustainable heat source

Many recycling processes require a source of heat. Options include firewood, charcoal, solar thermal, solar electric etc.

We are looking for an optimised and controllable way to heat material to 300C, for example to melt LDPE plastic. Good solutions will be environmentally-friendly (avoiding deforestation, air pollution etc.), relatively low-tech and low-cost.

Plastics: Synthetic hair (acrylic, polyester or polyvinyl chloride)

Hair salons create beautiful hair styles for men and women, often using hair extensions, weaves and wigs. Synthetic hair has a growing market all over the world, and in places without waste management it ends up dumped in the environment. Synthetic hair can be made from acrylic, polyester or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which are non-recyclable and non-biodegradable plastics.

We are looking for good ideas of how this single-use plastic can be replaced, re-used or recycled.

Plastics: EPS (expanded polystyrene)

What useful products can be made from waste expanded polystyrene (EPS)?

This white foam-like plastic is used in packaging applications like the moulded chunks around televisions and packing peanuts. It prevents products from being broken in transit and is the lightest packaging material available.

After use, it breaks easily into tiny pieces (often shaped like balls) and litters the environment, often being mistaken for food by wildlife.

Waste expanded polystyrene is available in varying amounts in most communities. We have heard of it being used for insulation; and for air pollution control (in place of activated carbon), though this would need further research. We are open to creative ideas and appropriate technologies for low-income countries.

Plastics: OPP (oriented polypropylene)

Aluminium smelting by Kazi | entry to WasteAid’s 2019 Wonders of Waste competition

Flexible packaging plastic known as OPP and BOPP (oriented and biaxially oriented polypropylene) is a very shiny plastic, often perfectly clear or brightly coloured, and not stretchy. It is commonly used for packaging and presentation e.g. the outer packaging on cigarette boxes, greetings cards, pasta bags, confectionery and pastries.

OPP is a very common single-use plastic found all over the world, and among the least recycled.

We are looking for simple processes, appropriate technologies and applications suitable for low-income countries. Can you find a low-tech way to turn used OPP into something useful?

Plastics: PET (polyethylene tetraphthalate)

While PET (polyethylene tetraphthalate, used for drinks bottles) is technically 100% recyclable, much of it ends up as litter in the environment.

Why? Most uses for PET are in food and drink packaging. Using recycled PET in food and drink packaging is costly because the material needs to be clean enough to meet food-grade hygiene standards.

What else can recycled PET be used for?

  • Ecobricks are made by filling PET bottles with sand or flexible plastic, then used as building blocks.
  • PET can be melted and reformed but it tends to become very brittle.
  • Using expensive machinery, PET can be processed into polyester blankets and fleece jackets, but there are growing concerns about plastic microfibres escaping into the environment.

While we are campaigning for a reduction in single-use PET, we also acknowledge that communities today are struggling with the waste material. We are looking for ways that people in low-income countries can make use of PET and keep it out of dumpsites and the ocean. To be accessible, processes should be low-tech and low-cost (or free), using readily available tools and materials. The final product will ideally be something that can use fairly large quantities of PET.

Safety: Safe artisanal smelting of aluminium

A common process all over the world, tens of thousands of people make a living by smelting aluminium to make new products.

The process itself is polluting and produces dangerous fumes.

We are looking for ways that can improve the health and safety of workers during the smelting process. This could be a new or adjusted process, a tool or other piece of equipment.

Safety: Workshop ventilator / extractor fan

Waste management processes sometime release gases or smoke which can be harmful to people working with them. Exposure can be reduced by working in a well-ventilated area and using well-fitting good quality face masks.

Passive ventilation is better than none, but we would really like a design of an extractor fan or ventilator that sucks air up and out of the building, preferably without the need for electricity (although a small motor would be acceptable).

The design should be simple enough for any reasonably-experienced metal worker to fabricate, anywhere in the world.

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