BASF Australia's trinamiX device helps Precious Plastic Monash (PPM) with plastic waste solutions
Earlier in the year, BASF Australia loaned a trinamiX Mobile Near Infrared (NIR) Spectroscopy Solution to Precious Plastic Monash (PPM), a group of multidisciplinary student volunteers from Monash University who are part of the global Precious Plastic community that aims to tackle and provide solutions to the ever growing presence of plastic pollution. Manufactured by BASF subsidiary trinamiX, this patented portable solution uses an array of proprietary infrared detectors which can see light in a wavelength range of up to 3 μm – a highly relevant region in the infrared spectrum and then use the data to identify a wide range of materials, including different types of plastic.
We caught up with Anthony Brady (he/him), the current Team Lead of Precious Plastic Monash (PPM), who’s also in his fifth year of a Bachelor of Environmental Engineering (honours) and a Bachelor of Science, majoring in ecology and conservation biology at Monash University to find out how PPM was able to deploy some of BASF’s latest technology in achieving their goals.
So tell me a little bit more about PPM, how you initially get involved with this community and perhaps one interesting activity that you’ve worked on with PPM?
PPM has three mission statements that encompass what we as a team of student volunteers value, as well as the broader global Precious Plastic movement. They are Sustainability & Innovation, Community & Education, as well as Research & Design. I’m personally very happy with the progress that we’ve made in expanding our line of recycled plastic products available for sale; for instance the Re-Stool is the first piece available to purchase and is a good example of how recycled plastic can be used without the need to compromise on functionality or design. Our team is also working on a new 1m x 1m sheet press that is going to allow us to create large sheets of recycled plastic, meaning we can increase the volume of plastic we recycle, and open up more possibilities for new product designs.
How did PPM initially start working with BASF?
PPM first engaged with BASF last year when our team presented at an event at Monash University hosted by another Monash student team. It's since been a great opportunity to engage with BASF over the past 12 months and one of the highlights was when members of our team had the opportunity last year to visit the BASF HQ in Freshwater Place, where we were able to engage with experts and specialists on topics relevant to us in order to get advice on 'non-toxic' plastic additives, plastic dyeing, and useful additives for biopolymer synthesis.
How did you / the team begin using the trinamiX handheld solution?
During the visit to the BASF HQ, some members were introduced to the trinamiX Mobile Near Infrared (NIR) Spectroscopy Solution and we realise that whilst it was cutting-edge technology, it was also pretty easy to use and the interconnectivity with a smartphone made it even more so. We were able to use the handheld device over a couple of months and we used it as a way to test, identify and determine if unknown plastics could be recycled. Our team works with mainly with HDPE (high-density polyethylene), LDPE (low-density polyethylene), PP (polypropylene) and PLA (polylactic acid) because they are relatively non-toxic and easy to work with. However, we also had quite a bit of shredded plastic in storage from previous year's that wasn't labelled so the trinamiX solution allowed us to identify what type of plastic it was. Another fantastic use was to deploy this device at certain outreach events, demonstrating the technology to primary and high school students.
What were some of the highlights or interesting things that the team have been able to observe whilst using the trinamiX device?
Honestly, it was really cool every time we got the chance to use it to test plastics and other materials! When we first got this device we were contacted by one of the libraries at Monash asking if we could recycle a heap of old CD cases that they had in storage and decided they wanted to dispose of. These cases weren't labeled with what type of plastic they were so the trinamiX made it really easy for us to find out. Turns out they were made of polypropylene or PP, which meant we could recycle the cases, which was a win for all. Our team is already very much into finding ways of using technology to make plastics more sustainable, but it was made even better when we were able to an innovative piece of technology like this in action!
Speaking with our own Lauren Porter, Country Development Head (Sustainability and Engagement) at BASF ANZ, we also were able to get to hear more about BASF's collaboration with Precious Plastic Monash: “It’s really encouraging to see students already so passionate about making a difference in the ways that we use, reduce or reuse plastics and the availability of technology solutions from BASF that would help them not only understand more about the types and compositions of plastic, but also apply out better solutions on how to then give those plastics a second life. We’ll definitely be watching to see what solutions this motivated and energetic team are able to come up with in the future.”