No sooner do scientists at the Center for Plastics Recycling Research figure out how to use the cheapest of waste plastics in railroad ties to hold up 140,000-pound locomotives, than the center closes for lack of funding. The center, once the touchstone of plastics recycling advances, will be blended into the Rutgers University engineering department and will have two staff members.
Rutgers professor Thomas Nosker has figured out a way to orient glass fibers in the lowest common denominator of plastics; that is, the leftover waste plastics after the valuable clear PET soft drink and high density polyethylene milk bottles have been removed. This waste, 90 percent HDPE, is known as curbside `tailings' and can be had for about 6 cents a pound. The process produces a railroad tie that could have double the life of a creosoted oak tie. Testing is proceeding under the auspices of the Association of American Railroads in Boulder, Colo. and Altoona, Pa.
Marketer Earth Care Products Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla., believes the real value of these ties is in 10-foot and longer lengths, for grade crossings and switches. There are few trees large enough to make ties that long.
Closing the Rutgers center, when it seems to be having success in finding a marketable use for mongrel post-consumer plastic, is another unfortunate circumstance in the world of HDPE recycling. It follows the announcement that the Union Carbide HDPE recycling facility in Piscataway, N.J., will be closing Oct. 1.
Railroad companies replace 20 million to 25 million ties a year, and officials predict their favorite preservative, creosote, will come under environmental review. If the Rutgers recycling center's technology proves sound after thorough testing, it will be a bitter swan song to the closed facility.
The building code dispute in Canada's Ontario province is a textbook example of unseemly conflict between colliding commercial interests and government regulation.
As reported last issue, in dispute is a change in Ontario's building code that removed full-height basement insulation and exterior basement drainage layer protection, which affects sales of polystyrene insulation, plastic drainage pipe and other materials.
The regulation was adopted in 1993 by the government over objections by the Ontario Home Building Association. The group claims the construction requirements are not cost-effective and add about C$1,000 (US$730) to the cost of a typical new home.
Plastics building suppliers disagree. They say the additional materials save homeowners money in energy costs. They are upset that provincial officials removed the construction requirement before finishing a review of 700 building code amendments. Plastics product manufacturers, who had a hand in getting the original construction requirement enacted, sputter that the revision could cost 1,500 jobs and result in higher energy consumption.
Such might happen. Unfortunately for the manufacturers and suppliers, provincial officials in this case are on the side of angels as far as the public is concerned.