Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Make your own sustainable plastic!

My 'Real Plastic' project
Over the coming weeks, 3D Design and Sustainable Design graduate Lenya Paikkou will be sharing her past University projects with us. Today she explains her ideas towards plastics – and even gives us a recipe for a more sustainable plastic material! 

I attended a 'Plastics' conference almost half a decade ago, and ever since, I have wanted to make a real difference in the world.  Somewhat naively, I believed that the point behind the conference would be to develop ideas of how to get a sincerely good material into the plastics market. However, the words cost, price, costings and price per unit seemed to play a big part in the talks, leaving me walking away from the conference frustrated but with a feeling of purpose.

Using my time at university, which was a security net that allowed me to experiment and attend workshops, I attempted to make a truly good plastic and solve the sustainability problems of the world...

Milk, vinegar and bicarbonate of soda is an old recipe known as Casein glue, used at the beginning of the 20th century before Bakelite entered the market. My project – called the ‘Real Plastic’ – saw me adding waste vegetable peelings to the mixture, affecting the surface finishes, properties and colours. The end products were tea coasters made out of real tea leaves.

The idea of this project was to look at providing a plastic to the market and address issues related to food waste, such as the methane emissions released when food waste is sent to landfill and our attitudes towards this wasteful practice. Unfortunately, there are still problems with the smell and final predictability of this material. But this aside – problem solved?

The recipe:
1. Heat milk in a pan (do not let it boil)
2. Add 3 teaspoons of vinegar (an acid) to the milk and stir slowly until the milk
separates into curds and whey
3. Pour the curds and whey through a tea strainer or sieve to collect the curds
4. In a container, add a little bit of bicarbonate of soda or milk of magnesia (alkali)
5. You should now have a sticky white substance called casein (milk protein) and leave to dry and set.

Feel free to watch my video showing how to make the plastic: watch video

Post by Lenya Paikkou, Action 21 volunteer