A new localized effort in Alaska recycles post-consumer plastic, marine debris and industrial plastic waste into lumber that could be used for infrastructure or industrial work.
Anchorage, Alaska-based engineer Patrick Simpson hopes the project, which won a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency through the Small Business Innovation Research program, will give remote Alaskan communities a resource to recycle plastics locally.
"Alaska has a lot of coastline, so we accumulate a lot of marine debris," Simpson told Plastics News in an interview. "A significant amount of that marine debris is plastics. It comes from the fishing industry in the way of nets, lines and buoys and also things that are tossed overboard from processing ships at sea.
"Although it's a horrible problem, there's not a lot of [ocean plastic waste] available in terms of volume," Simpson said.
As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and others invest more money in marine debris collection in Alaska, "that's going to be a growing material stream," he added.
NOAA's Marine Debris Program has focused on Alaska's coastline, which is longer than the rest of the United States', to remove more than 900 metric tons of debris since 2006.
As a former second-generation fisherman, Simpson said, he's seen the impact plastics have on beaches and coastlines in Alaska.
"I'm hopeful that the combination of programs like ours and the increased funding will … not only allow us to utilize it but to eliminate it," he said.