Sustainable construction: plastic waste to eco-friendly concrete

Plastic waste could be mixed with cement to build superior eco-friendly concrete with fewer carbon emissions than conventional concrete products. — Queensland is leading the nation, when it comes to producing the most carbon emissions. In fact, 28.3 per cent of the country’s greenhouse emissions can be traced back to Queensland, according to research by the Australian federal government. It’s safe to say this is one recognition that no state or territory wants to claim – but Queensland shouldn’t cop all the blame. Nearly a fifth of Australia’s annual carbon emissions stem from building and maintenance projects across the nation (including commercial construction and civil engineering sectors). Global concrete production sits high on the list of damaging processes – generating around 4.5 per cent of man-made CO2. Luckily scientists are looking into more sustainable ways to make concrete, instead of relying on cement.

The use of plastic waste in concrete – could eco-friendly cement work better than traditional concrete?

The amount of plastic in the oceans has reached alarming heights as the world strains under tons of plastic waste. Most of this ends up in landfill, because plastic recycling isn’t widely used. What if there was a way to recycle plastic by incorporating it into building products, like bricks? Scientists have previously failed to mix plastic into cement, because their attempts have weakened the concrete structure. But a research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology may have found the solution. They’re blasting plastic with small doses of gamma radiation to strengthen it and create a sturdy, flexible concrete slab. They managed to create a sustainable product that’s up to 15 per cent stronger than conventional concrete. “Our technology takes plastic out of the landfill, locks it up in concrete, and also uses less cement to make the concrete, which makes fewer carbon dioxide emissions,” said Michael Short, an assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering.
“This has the potential to pull plastic landfill waste out of the landfill and into buildings, where it could actually help to make them stronger.”
use of plastic waste in concrete sustainable

What’s next for plastic waste and green-mix cement?

The team will now blast different types of plastics with various gamma radiation doses before testing the impact on cement. They’ve already found that replacing 1.5 per cent of cement with irradiated plastic strengthens concrete products. This might seem like a small substitute at first glance, but it could have mass implications on a global scale. Similar innovations also promise to breathe new life into commercial construction around Australia.