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Plastics-News-Today-Chinese-Policy-Change-Spurred-Recycled-Plastic-Furniture

In January, China began enforcing a policy that bans the import of plastic waste from the rest of the world. The implications of this are massive: nearly 400 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide each year and, though only about 14 percent of it ever gets recycled, China was the world’s main recycler.


“We used to be sending China all our dirty materials, and now we’re stuck at this point where we have to figure out who is willing to buy that in the U.S. to recycle it,” says Brian Chung, who has co-founded a trio of companies in Los Angeles working to solve the plastic waste problem. “That’s happening throughout the whole country and the whole world—people are realizing, hey, China is not taking it anymore, and we don’t have our own solutions.”


But for Chung, the solution could begin with the plastic itself. “PETs, PPs, those plastics are petroleum based, and when you recycle them they mostly down-cycle,” he explains. “So you can’t perfectly recycle all materials. You can’t make one hundred percent the same thing again.”


Repurpose, a company for which he is a founding partner, creates tableware (cups, plates, utensils, straws) from a bioplastic called PLA that is made entirely of corn or other starchy crops, and is not only fully up-cyclable but also fully compostable. Chung has also created the first and only bioplastic recycling plant in the United States, and with cofounder Mateo Neri he has started reCircular to design and find new applications for the recycled bioplastic.


“Because these bioplastics are supposed to be inherently compostable, in most building applications you don’t want it to break down that fast. So we’re actually working with that to make more advanced combinations—compounds with different materials to make them a little bit better,” Chung says. By adding bio-based binding agents like coffee grounds or sawdust, the bioplastic becomes stronger while taking on a look similar to terrazzo—perfect for building items.


To pilot test the material in a real-world application, reCircular has created a table and bench for Triniti, a cafe in Los Angeles’s Echo Park neighborhood, by recycling the cafe’s own waste. “We’re using their coffee grounds, specifically, and their bioplastic cup and utensil waste to make the furniture,” Chung explains. The bench seat and tabletop are bioplastic, while the steel frame for the bench is reclaimed from other furniture.


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