Experiment #8: recycled plastic earrings

It was time to finally make something useful with these experiments. I have a good friend who loves crazy earrings. And so, I gave myself the challenge to try to make her a gift – specifically recycled plastic earrings.

To make this gift, I originally tried to use a pineapple silicon mould, but I wasn’t happy with the texture and the inability to see the “Canberra Milk” logo properly.

So, I decided to try to make something more natural using just an egg circle mould.

eggrings

Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures during the process. After the plastic was melted, I cut the circular piece into four and remelted two of the best pieces to smooth out the cut lines.

Afterwards I bought some jewelry fixtures, drilled a hole in each, and voila! My friend love her recycled plastic earrings gift!

handmade recycled plastic earrings
Different types of recycled plastic

Experiment #7 – LDPE and PP

I’ve finally moved from melting milk bottle lids to trying out other types of plastic, specifically LDPE plastic bags and corrugated plastic signs from PP. And it’s definitely harder using my primitive equipment.

Polypropylene or #5 PP

There’s a local election this year, and I know that thousands of corrugated plastic signs will go to landfill unless there’s a recycling solution. So, if I can find a way to do this, I could do a good thing for the environment and really demonstrate the value in this discarded resource.

Election signs
Credit: Canberra Times

For the corrugated plastic signs experiments, I was specifically trying to maintain the original designs of the sign. That’s been tricky because I found it easy to burn the added ink in a convection oven. Furthermore, PP or polypropylene melts at a much higher melting point then the others and I’m finding it harder to get it to melt fully in my moulds.

Below shows my first experiments. The right “coaster” was obviously burned in the process. The one on the left wasn’t as much as I put aluminium foil over the top of it, but there are still solid pieces that weren’t full melted.

Polypropylene
Failed PP experiments

Low-density polyethylene or LDPE #4

For LDPE, I’m trying to solve another problem that was brought up by my mates at Pushy’s Bike Store. Every bike and part that they receive comes in a plastic bag, and they have no way to recycle it.

It’s a good, clean source of mostly LDPE plastic. Furthermore, I reckon that just about every retailer in Canberra has the same issue. For Pushy’s specifically, I also asked them to give me some discarded bike gears and chains too.

My thoughts were that I might be able to embed the parts into the plastic to tell a better story of where the plastic originally came from.

Telling the story of these plastics

One of the major reasons why I have gone the extra lengths to keep the artwork on the plastic (from milk bottle lids to the signs) is to be able to share the story of where these plastics came from.

If everything is a single colour, few people will even know that it’s recycled plastic in an end product. If it comes in the typical multiple-colour tones that are the results of shredding the material without further processing, people may know it’s from recycled plastic, but they have no idea from what.

I want people to see value in this resource, and it’s much each easier to share their origin’s story if I can somehow keep the artwork when I turn it into a final product. Plus, how cool would it be if I can pull it off!

Experiment #6: Recycled Art Piece

It’s taken me forever, but I finally completed Experiment #6 – a recycled plastic art piece for my mates over at the Local Press Cafe.

Recycled Plastic Art Piece made from Milk Bottle Caps
Recycled Plastic Art Piece made from Milk Bottle Caps

For about a month now, I’ve been experimenting with milk bottle caps from their cafe. I’ve always liked how the Canberra Milk logo was on the top of the black and purple caps, and so I worked hard to preserve them in this little art piece.

I’m not too confident with how long it will stay together, but at least it was not as embarrassing as some of my previous attempts. Hopefully, they’ll like my gift.

As for what I will do next with these Plastic Experiments, I’m not sure. I want to make one more for another friend with a business. I feel like there’s something special about preserving the logos as part of the education process. Yet, it’s really time consuming to make anything this way.

So, for the moment, it’s more of a late night hobby that allows me to continue to test ideas and continue to learn more about plastic properties. Whether or not I can eventually commercialise something with milk bottle caps or really anything by melting plastic this way, I’m really not sure at this point.

Experiment #5 – Mixed plastics

I collected a bunch of bottle caps from the Clean-up Burley Griffin Day and decided to try another Plastic Experiment with what proved to be mixed plastics i.e. multiple plastic types.

They came from a range of bottles and some were really old. So, I really didn’t know what kinds of plastic they were made of. However, since all of my previous experiments seem to melt fairly consistently, I thought I should try doing something with this plastic too, betting that an old Coke bottle lid would be made of something similar to milk bottles.

But I was wrong. I found that the usual 180C melting temperature for HDPE was only slightly melting most of the other pieces. So, I turned up the temperature and hoped for the best.

Unfortunately, the results were mostly of burned HDPE #2 and half melted other plastic(s) – maybe PP #5. Furthermore, the higher temperatures actually melted the silicon mould too, resulting to it sticking to the melted plastic and destroying my mould.

Burned plastic and moulds
My burned moulds

This Plastic Experiment is a really good example of why recycling plastics is so hard when there are so many variations of plastic with different properties including melting point – creating mixed plastics to be sorted. I still have a few bottle caps left and may try again, but first I have to order a new mould. Sigh…

Experiment #4 – Microplastics

Despite being flat out the last two weeks with the Clean-up Lake Burley Griffin Day, I did managed to get one new experiment done around microplastics or Plastic Experiment #4.

In reality, the project didn’t start out this way. Instead, I went to a friend’s house to try to use a mitresaw to see if I could I smooth out the edges of the lumpy larger pieces. However, it turned out that he didn’t have the right tool, and so I proceeded to just use his hand saw.

What resulted from this process was purple plastic dust everywhere – essentially microplastics, which can end up in the water streams if I wasn’t careful. So, as I was sweeping up everything, it suddenly occurred to me that I could melt this dust down again and so I did.

This time, I used silicon moulds that just arrived from the US. The dust fit in there easily, but I quickly realised that there were other things in that mix too like saw dust from wood shavings and various leaves and twigs. I expected that my melting process would burn them, and I wasn’t wrong. The fumes were horrible!

After that lesson, I finally created some space on my balcony to attempt it again outside, and despite the extra particles in the plastic it worked really well. The small shapes held their form even while shrinking per usual, and I could easily get them out of the mould.

There were still quite a few bubbles in the final letters as I didn’t want to risk melting the silicon mould by accident again, but I think it actually gives the shapes some character.

So, overall I was happy with the results of this experiment with microplastics, and I feel really close to creating something that I wouldn’t mind sharing soon with friends.