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By Keith R | January 16, 2009
According to a report from São Paulo’s Research Support Foundation (Fapesp), a synthetic “paper” made from discarded post-consumer plastics has been developed at Brazil’s Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) and tested in a pilot plant of Vitopel, a manufacturer of flexible films with a factory in Votorantim, São Paulo.
Produced as a film, the material is manufactured using recycled water bottles, food jars and packaging of certain cleaning products. [It appears that in all cases the resin sought was polypropylene (PP).] It can be used for bottle labels, billboards, board games, stickers, school books and even currency bills — relieving demand for virgin cellulose-based paper while providing a new market for recycled PP. There is another patented synthetic paper on the market produced with plastics, but UFScar and Vitopel say that this is the first made with recycled plastic.
In exchange for allowing UFScar use their machinery to test different formulations of the synthetic paper, Vitopel was granted co-ownership of the patent. Currently the company is looking for steady suppliers of recycled material to continue tests past the pilot scale.
In a process developed at the university, the plastic is cleaned and ground and then mineral particles are added to obtain desired optical properties — such as brightness, contrast, light dispersion — and to adjust the tear and tensile strength and flexibility. The mixture is placed in an extruder at high temperatures, which softens and melts it. In the end, the material rolls out as a large thin sheet, similar to a paper sheet made from cellulose, which is rolled and then cut according to the application.
The tests also checked for optical properties and printing performance as compared to synthetic paper made from virgin resin. The UFScar researcher in charge of the project, Sati Manrich of the Materials Engineering Department, claims that that the results were comparable. The tests did, though, indicate that it was best to avoid using material recycled from dark plastics.
The project began in 1996, when Sati started a project financed by FAPESP for the characterization of polyolefins from municipal waste for the possible manufacture of synthetic paper, the idea being to foment new markets for recycled plastics. He first developed a synthetic paper utilizing PET bottles as his raw materials, but that required a special chemical treatment in order to produce a film. So in 2002 he turned to the aforementioned source materials, eventually resulting in the synthetic paper now being tested by Vitopel.
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