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B.C. engineers study how repurposed plastic bottles could protect landfills

The research is published in the journal Waste Management and funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grants Program

A pair of B.C. engineers have found a new purpose for plastic bottles in a place many would least expect: landfills.

Past researchers have found nearly a hundred metric tons of microplastics produced each year, with only a few getting recycled – making landfills one of the largest sources of plastic waste.

In response to this global issue, UBCO engineering professor Sumi Siddiqua has developed a way that can transform microplastic waste into stabilizing cover materials between the dirt and all that’s dropped in landfills.

“Due to its non-toxicity, low biodegradability and accessibility, it shows considerable potential for use in landfill designs. However, a considerable amount of research is still required,” Siddiqua said in a statement.

“This not only solves the solid waste problem but also increases the economic value of waste and encourages its re-circulation back from already polluted lands and oceans.”

Siddiqua’s recent research found that the reused material strengthens not only provides a layer of protection from harmful, polluting materials— like lead— from seeping into the soil and causing damage, but also can strengthen the dirt.

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Doctoral student Alok Chandra, who works alongside Siddiqua, said this concept could also be integrated into geotechnical construction methods.

“By finding new ways to use these discarded plastics, we can divert them from landfills and use them to stabilize cover materials within landfills.”

The study, which was published in the journal Waste Management, was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery grants program.

Chandra said he and Siddqua’s research into the possibilities of microplastics will continue.

“Our results show great potential, but there is still some work to be done before we will integrate the (microplastic) waste into landfill soil stabilization management.”