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GREEN BEAT: Some hope for plastics in our future

Trinity Western chemist Shane Durbach and Walnut Grove high school teacher Tim Stephenson lead event

By David Clements/Special to Langley Advance Times

We all need a little hope these days – or maybe more than a little!

With local, national, and global calls for restricting or banning various uses of plastic, the ubiquitous man-made substance called plastic seems like a pretty unlikely thing on which to place any hope.

Indeed, a depressing statistic that has often been quoted recently, is that only nine per cent of plastic used in Canada is recycled.

What that means is that some 3 million tonnes of plastic are thrown away by Canadians each year, ending up in domestic landfills, shipped to other countries, or added to the infamous massive plastic island in the Pacific Ocean – said to be about three times the size of France.

Once these waste plastics find their way to the ocean, they may harm marine creatures through physical entanglement, ingestion, or biomagnification of chemical pollutants.

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Plastic is generally “made to last” and takes a very long time to break down in the environment, somewhere between 20 years and five centuries, depending on the type of plastic.

Among the most notorious are single-use plastics derived from “non-renewable” plastics like grocery bags (high-density polyethylene), drinking bottles (polyethylene terephthalate), and yogurt containers (polystyrene).

Trinity Western University chemistry professor Shane Durbach is studying ways of turning various types of plastics into useable products so that even “non-renewable” plastics might get a second chance.

Durbach studies nanotechnology and leads a current research project in collaboration with University of Regina colleague Jacob Muthu to see if waste plastics could be turned into “plastic particles of hope.”

These plastic particles that Dr. Durbach hopes to create from waste plastics are technically termed “shaped carbon nanomaterials” that have all kinds of practical uses.

From the particles, Dr. Muthu is looking to engineer substances that make metal pipelines less vulnerable to corrosion, as fillers in low-cost composites for use in building materials, or as photocatalysts in water purification.

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These new frontiers open up new opportunities for the next generation to turn plastic waste into useful products, and Tim Stephenson, a local Langley high school teacher has been working with his students on molding this new more hopeful view of plastic.

His students have been experimenting with ways of breaking down discarded coffee cup lids, yogurt containers and the like, as part of his efforts to make climate change education more engaging.

Both Durbach and Stephenson will be speaking Saturday, March 12, at the DeVries Auditorium, at Trinity Western University, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

COVID protocols for public events will be in place, including vaccination and face covering requirements, for the in-person event. It is also being livestreamed; see for further details.


David Clements PhD, is a professor of biology and environmental studies at Trinity Western University


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Tim Stephenson is a teacher at Walnut Grove Secondary School and will speak at the Plastic particles of hope” session on March 12. (Special to Langley Advance Times)

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