Christmas breaks consistently produce large quantities of waste in households. Gifts ordered online are provided in cardboard boxes, and considerable amounts of packaged food are bought for dinner. Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) students have designed a strategy to turn barely recyclable plastics from delivery food packages into reusable shipping boxes.
tradition methods of recycling
Appreciations to refined packaging, milk, juice, or assorted cheese slices remain fresh, aromatic, and protected for a prolonged time. In most possibilities, this packaging is made of multi-layers of plastics, such as polyethylene(PE), polypropylene(PP), or PET, which are a few millimeters thin. These layers are maintained jointly by plastic adhesives, such as polyurethane(PU). It cannot be divided by traditional processes, such as crushing, screening, or centrifugation.
Also, a thermal process is not done for this ideal, as the melting points of the plastic are too close to each other. “The idea is to utilize solvents to dissolve the bond between the foils and separate the layers afterward,” says Paul Neugebauer, master’s chemical engineering and process technology student at KIT. He and four fellow engineering students have developed a recycling process to recover pure plastics from multi-layered packaging. Recycled Polymer Packaging Karlsruhe, RepoPaK for short, is the recycled shipping box produced from the old plastics by the students.
economically efficient idea
With the concept, the young creators succeeded in first prize at the 2021 Germany-wide chemPLANT contest undertaken by the Society Chemical and Process Engineering of the Association of German Engineers (VDI). The challenge was to make a creative, sustainable, and economically efficient idea for recycling to simulate a higher value product.
Lightweight plastic packagings have the most significant percentage of the packaging waste piled from private households.
foldable reusable shipping box
“The next part of the concept concentrates on tomorrow because RepoPaK can be transit with drones, requiring waterproof. The structure is honeycomb; it is stable and lightweight. Corresponded to paper corrugated boxes, it will be perfect for automated transport packaging in the future,” says Philipp Beeskow from the RepoPaK team. The boxes are foldable, and the packs can be stored in the smallest space until reuse.
various sizes of box
The young engineers say that transport boxes of varying sizes, from the shoebox to the big box, can be made from a recycled plastic material worked for the respective volume. As these boxes only consist of a single material, they can be recycled easily at the end of their service life. Manufacturing costs, energy consumption, and CO2 emissions are reduced to single-use shipping boxes. And the waste volume decreases. In this way, waste is used to avoid waste, and another step is made towards a circular economy, the team points out.