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A Word About Recycling with Ollie Maier

Sunday, February 9, 2020

If I can keep my promise, this should be the last article in this series on wind turbines. In it, I will continue to try to explain why these large turbine blades, made of a glass fiber-thermoset composite plastic, are so difficult to recycle.

I found, one company, Global Fiberglass Solutions (GFS), based in Bothell, Washington, with a plant in Sweetwater, Texas, has developed a process to recycle the special plastic used in these blades. This special plastic material has been permanently cured and can’t just be remelted and molded.

In the Sweetwater plant, the process starts with magnetic separation equipment to remove the metal bolts and fasteners. The cut-up blades are then shredded. The resulting material is next blended with either virgin or recycled thermoplastics to make a reinforced, filled thermoplastic pellet.

These pellets are now suitable for injection molding and extrusion manufacturing processes. Some possible end products for these pellets include decking and siding materials, containers, pallets, parking bollards, etc. The GFS company is also trying to develop a composite panel for use in construction and flooring applications.

If successful, such panels are expected to consume most of the recycled material. These panels would be similar to wood-content particle board; however, composite paneling doesn’t absorb water, thus making it also suitable for marine industries and waterfront facilities.

Currently, the Sweetwater plant processes two or three blades per day, or about 2-3 tons per hour on an 8-hour shift. Later, at full production, it is expected to be able to process 8 tons per hour.

Interestingly, the GFS company charges system owners to take their decommissioned blades. Otherwise the owners would have to pay for waste companies for collection and landfilling —just as many homeowners pay an extra recycling fee to the garbage collectors.

At that, I will leave behind the subject of wind turbines for now. I'm hoping this information has been as interesting to you as it was to me. But sticking with the Plastics Recycling newsletter, I found an interesting take concerning recycling by U.S. Senator Udall of New Mexico. He believes, "we are in a crisis situation and that we got here by relying on solutions that didn’t adequately address our needs.”

Although he feels almost all members of congress support recycling, it is only part of the solution. He would like to see more emphasis placed on manufactures to produce better products… both to be able to recycle them easier or to make more efficient/less wasteful products — And I, for one, agree.

Please note when I mention I am doing something or saying something in these articles, it is really a joint effort as my wife, Mary, edits and comments on the contents so as to make them the best we can. Part of the reason I don’t say "we" is you have no way of knowing if I am speaking about just her and me or if it pertains to the whole community, state, country, or world. Guess I could say "we, Mary and I"or "we in the San Marcos area" or "we Texans" or "we Americans" or "we, part of this earth’s population," but that would be rather cumbersome… And with that, we will close.

Till next week, do have a great one...

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Ollie is a local citizen concerned with the environment and helping others. A retired Air Force fighter and instructor pilot, he is a graduate of Leadership San Marcos and received his degrees at Texas State University where he worked on staff before totally retiring. For questions or comments, he invites you to call him at 512-353-7432.

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