One Word: Plastics

Published by: John Nephew

Atlas Games is committed to finding ways to reduce our environmental impact. We haven't even used our last bags of corn starch packing peanuts (let alone needed to buy any more), since buying our cardboard perforator. And because we turn our excess boxes into packing material now, we rarely need to order our recycling dumpster picked up (probably just 2-3 times per year).

Now we're looking at the plastic waste from our operations -- like polyethylene stretch wrap and polypropylene strapping used on pallets -- that goes straight into the trash. The plastic itself is technically recyclable, but the form most of our plastic waste comes in is incompatible with single-stream recycling pickup and processing. We've decided we need to figure out how to recycle it ourselves, and make it into useful products that we can sell.

Plastics are both a miraculous class of materials, and a serious problem for sustainability and the environment. It’s frustrating that so many plastics are quite recyclable in theory, but there are a lot of reasons, economic and technical, why they don’t get recycled. A sobering article in The Atlantic. titled “Plastic Recycling Doesn’t Work and Never Will Work,” explains some of those reasons. A contrasting point of view is exemplified by Precious Plastic, an open source project aimed at fostering micro-scale local recycling of plastics as a business proposition.

Industrial scale manufacturing and global markets have meant that for decades "plastic" has been equivalent to "cheap." While it has a high start-up cost (general machinery and then tooling, making the molds and dies for specific items), the marginal production cost is tiny. In effect, creating your first widget may cost $3000; but every widget thereafter is simply the cost of raw materials and energy, which may be only pennies. Massive-scale processing of plastic waste into usable recycled raw material for new products costs a lot more than just pumping more oil and making virgin plastic.

Thermoplastics -- the kind that turn malleable or liquid when heated, so they can be merged and reshaped into different products -- are amazing and useful, aside from often being cheap. Precious Plastic encourages people all over the world to look at diverting waste plastic on the local level and repurposing it into new items, with an artisanal craft approach rather than industrialized mass production. While we work on ways to reduce our reliance on new plastics, we can explore ways to use the plastic already in our community as a raw material to create objects of value to our customers.

We're on a quest to reach zero waste, and beyond. Watch this space for updates as our adventure proceeds!



Behind the Scenes Headlines Replay Recycling