>Lee Hornberger is an associate professor on the Mechanical Engineering
>faculty and a member of the Environmental Studies Program Council at
>Santa Clara University. Prior to joining the University, Dr. Hornberger,
>a specialist in the design and processing of plastic and composite
>materials, managed the Design Analysis Group at Apple Computer, and
>worked as a design engineer at Raychem, Hewlett Packard, and Acurex
Dr. Hornberger began her talk by showing a pie chart explaining what the breakdown of the stuff that goes into a landfill is. Fully twenty percent of a typical landfill is plastics by volume. This is a huge quantity of material, much of which is used drink containers. Finding ways to recycle this material is a golden opportunity for a plastics engineer.
Dr. Hornberger explained that on the East coast a lot of the soda bottles end up being made into carpets, a good use for the plastic. Since transportation is a major percentage of the price of recycling plastic, it is not cost effective for West Coast plastics to be used in this way. Instead that material is shipped off to China, and try as she might, she has not been able to find out what happens to it when it gets there.
Looking around for a local use for recycled plastic, Dr. Hornberger came across the idea of using it to make the plastic components used by the building industry. She had students make experimental pieces that could be used in place of the rebar shelves and the cones used in making poured concrete walls and floors. They did all the steps, from collecting bottles, grinding them up, washing the plastic, making the molds and using them in the lab to manufacture useful parts.
Since making prototypes Dr. Hornberger has shopped them around to many plastic companies to see if they want to commercialize the process, now that she has proved that it is very feasible. It turns out that all of the plastic companies are owned by the oil companies, and this has had a significant impact on their attitude towards other sources of material to run their production lines. She often gets a response that she characterized as "stonewalling" when she asks them to try recycled source material.