Australian Company Turns Soft Plastics into Building Panels

Ethan Robinson 16/04/2024 Recycling
australian company turns soft plastics into building panels

Australian manufacturer Sustainable Infrastructure Systems (SIS) has unveiled groundbreaking structural panels made from glass fibre-reinforced polymer (GFRP) combined with recycled soft plastics. The company’s latest innovation involves using mixed post-consumer soft plastics to produce lightweight, durable composite panels.

These panels boast comparable structural integrity to concrete and offer significant environmental benefits, including a reduction in embodied carbon by up to 48% compared to traditional concrete panels, with a potential lifespan exceeding a century.

The product is the outcome of four years of collaborative research with The University of Adelaide, focusing on soft plastics recycling optimization at the SIS facility in Wingfield, a suburb of Adelaide. This development follows the recent failure of Australia’s REDcycle soft plastics program, from which a substantial amount of the plastics used in these panels were sourced.

SIS managing director Nick Wotton explained the broader implications of this advancement. “There are potentially limitless applications for our panels in transforming everyday rubbish into structures with huge benefits for our clients, communities, and the environment,” Wotton stated.

He added, “Recycled plastics have been used in the manufacture of structural building materials for decades, but SIS’ technology is the first to incorporate unprocessed mixed post-consumer soft plastics into high-performance structural panels.”

Highlighting the panels’ environmental and practical advantages, Wotton noted, “Our structural panels provide clients with a genuine reduction in embodied carbon and will be increasingly attractive as more infrastructure contracts are requiring companies to demonstrate how they will reduce embodied carbon across projects.”

The panels’ debut application was a pedestrian bridge in Newenham, Mount Barker, constructed in collaboration with Mount Barker District Council and developer Burke Urban. This 7.5-meter by 3.4-meter bridge is composed of 70% recycled soft plastics, equivalent to the content of 29 standard 240L kerbside recycling bins, including items like shopping bags, plastic film, and food wrappers.

Leading the research team, GFRP specialist and Professor of Structural Engineering Scott Smith emphasized the project’s focus on minimizing dependence on virgin materials.

SIS has committed to increasing the production of these innovative panels in the fiscal years 2024 and 2025, which is expected to create between 15 to 18 new full-time jobs. Moreover, the company plans to initiate trials to manufacture structural panels using decommissioned wind turbine blades later this year.

In 2021, SIS invested $2.4 million to produce GFRP structures under a license agreement with Dutch company InfraCore, further establishing its commitment to sustainable manufacturing practices.

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  • Ethan Robinson

    Ethan is a content editor with a background in environmental journalism. He’s an enthusiastic home cook and collector of vintage records.

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