Product Focus: eWood

eWood™ is an exciting new product, with patent-pending, manufactured and marketed by Victorian company, Close the Loop…

eWood is an innovative plastic lumber made from a process that enables a large mix of plastics, including the mixed and heavily contaminated plastics present in used electronic equipment (eWaste), to be recycled en masse. The key to this process lies in the machinery that safely heats and mixes dozens of different types of plastics contaminated by up to 80 types of potentially toxic flame retardants.

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Made from 100% recycled polystyrene and related styrenic plastics, eWood is jet black, weatherproof, tough and environmentally favourable. eWood can be used as fences, garden edging, outdoor furniture and sound barriers.

It has almost the same characteristics as natural hardwood in terms of look and feel, as well as density and can be worked, shaped and handcrafted using woodworking tools. In comparison with commercial hardwoods, and other plastic alternatives to timber, eWood™ has unique advantages in terms of durability and versatility. It is UV resistant, rot-resistant, non-porous and resistant to bacteria growth and insect attack.

eWood is currently being made in planks of 190mm x 23mm in 1.2m, 2.4m lengths (longer if required).

Other types of plastic lumber are made from mixed polyolefins, which do not allow for use with glue, paint or varnish due to poor interfacial adhesion. In contrast, the recycled styrenic plastics of eWood allow it to be painted, glued and varnished.

Close the Loop specialise in the collection and recycling of electronics scrap, and was set up with the sole purpose of making sure this hazardous waste does not end up in landfill. The idea for eWood came to inventor Close The Loop CEO, Steve Morriss, then owner of a toner and inkjet cartridge remanufacturing company, because he needed a solution for the growing stockpile of cartridges and other units piling up in his small factory.

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The process of recycling/reprocessing plastics already occurs all over the world. This process roughly follows the same lines as other companies, but in this case differs with its extruder, a machine which allows a large number of mixed contaminated plastics to be heated and mixed together, without compromising OH&S standards.

Firstly, eWaste such as phones, photocopiers, printers, faxes, scanners are put into a shredder. The ink or toner cartridges are removed prior to shredding, and put through their own process to remove the toner powder (polymer and carbon black) and ink for their own melting mixing process. The shredded bits go into a machine which removes the magnetic metal such as ion, steel, and aluminium. These metals are sent to a metal recycler. The remaining plastic bits and metal (some metal might still remain from the printer metal and rollers, which does not get removed in the magnetic stage) then go into tanks full of water and salt (density solution). This bouyancy makes the lighter chopped up plastics float, and some of the remaining metal and heavier plastics with bromine sink.

The lighter plastics are removed from the heavier plastics and ground to around a 5mm grain, which enables it to be extruded. In the meantime, the black from toner and ink cartridges has been put in a separate simpler extruder and this master mix is then added to the main plastic mix as it heads into the main extruder. It is an important ingredient that will act like a binding agent, helping the other plastics to stay together. Its properties also give eWood its UV screen protection and its black appearance. The ground up plastic granules, including the toner/ink mix, are poured into a extruder, are melted, and the flame retardant gases are removed.

When the molten plastic reaches the exit mouth it is pushed through a die, and emerges as a continuous board. eWood is thus born. If desired, eWood can also be flame retardant, depending on what plastics are mixed together. The company’s entire operation, including the industrial plant and equipment, is powered by 100% green electricity. Visit www.closetheloop.com.au.