A New Jobs Industry: Consider Recycling Our Plastic Wastes —Godwin J. Igwe, Ph.D., PE

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It would be difficult to visualise our modern world without plastics. Today they are an integral part of everyone’s lifestyle with applications varying from commonplace articles, to sophisticated scientific and medical instruments. Nowadays, designers and engineers readily turn to plastics because they offer combinations of properties not available in any other materials. Plastics offer advantages such as lightness, resilience, resistance to corrosion, colour fastness, transparency, ease of processing, etc., and although they also have their limitations, their exploitation is limited only by the ingenuity of the designer.

There are many types of plastics just as there are different types of metals and ceramics. But where the latter are composed of individual atoms, or small molecules in crystalline or amorphous structures, the essential ingredient of every plastic is a high-molecular weight polymer, a long-chain molecule containing thousands of repeating small molecular units.

There are two main classes of plastics: thermoplastics and thermosets. At some stage along their conversion into finished products, both types are fluid enough to be formed and moulded. Thermoplastics solidify by cooling and may be re-melted repeatedly. Thermosets in their fluid condition are still chemically reactive and harden by the further reaction called crosslinking, between groups on nearby chains, forming a three-dimensional network. Subsequent heating, though it may soften the structure somewhat, cannot restore the flow-ability that typifies the uncross-linked, uncured resin.

Polymers are produced by chemical companies and shipped to processors – fabricating companies that melt thermoplastics or formulate and mix the components of thermosets in order to form plastic products in diverse shapes. The polymer is shipped in pelletized, granulated, powdered, or liquid form and is at this stage called resin.

The simple chemicals from which monomers and polymers ultimately derive are usually obtained from crude oil or natural gas, but they can also come from coal, sand, salt, and air.

Plastic recycling is the process of recovering scrap or waste plastics and reprocessing the material into useful products, sometimes completely different in form from their original state. For instance, this could mean melting down soft drink bottles and then casting them as plastic chairs and tables. Typically a plastic is not recycled into the same type of plastic, and products made from recycled plastics are often not recyclable.

The invention that I developed (U.S. Patent No. 5,973,013) dated October 26, 1999, discloses a process for melt blending a mixture of a thermoplastic polyamide and segmented thermoplastic copolymers of polyurethane and the product thereof. The process of the invention is useful for recycling textile goods, such as pantyhose, into a form useful for fabricating into shaped articles such as moldings, sheets, and fibres.

Since people want jobs, establishing an industry that assembles plastics to be recycled would create jobs. There is little or no “big picture” leadership action in Abuja, or enabling conditions for “can do” entrepreneurs who will invest in job creation for the disenfranchised many. Legislators elected to office are more about themselves collecting jumbo remunerations than “thinking” about unlocking the potentials of their unemployed constituents.

Why can’t our politicians repatriate their dormant money in foreign banks back to their cities and villages to provide infrastructure to employ their unemployed constituents and make history for posterity? We need leadership and substance….not slogans and showmanship. Capitalizing on our human capital translates to development. Unfortunately, most Nigerian leaders are above the law.

I am advocating for the unemployed because of flagrant display of unearned primitive and foolish acquisition of personal wealth from the people’s taxes and misappropriation. There are no thoughtful job generation proposals from the National Assembly, showing abysmal deficit of understanding of the duties and responsibilities of elected members of the National Assembly and Senate. Jobs and energy strategies are directly related to national security.

I will conclude by stating that there are simple things we could do for ourselves instead of always being dependent on others. Recycling is one of them. Plastics are ubiquitous around every corner and could be collected and processed without even sorting. We need a visionary government that is responsive to the needs of its people in implementing simple things. We need a group of individuals dedicated to “thinking outside the box”, isolated from the vagaries of politics and acquisition of personal wealth, and state of origin.

 

•Igwe was Sr. Research Engineer with Continental Oil Corporation (Conoco. Inc.), and Sr. Information Scientist, E.I. DuPont de Nemours Co. Inc. He was Director, representing Nigerian Federal Government/NNPC on Board of Flopetrol Oil & Gas Services, Inc. He is a Fellow of The American Institute of Chemical Engineers, World Bank Robert McNamara, and Alexander-von-Humboldt Fellow. Contact: [email protected]

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