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UMass Lowell Researcher Pioneers New Approaches to Plastics Recycling in the U.S. and Caribbean


LOWELL- UMass Lowell Plastics Engineering Prof. Robert Malloy has developed two new processes that will reduce the amount of plastics being dumped into landfills.

    The first process manufactures building blocks, which are similar to a cider blocks. The blocks are composed of recycled plastic and coal-fired power plant ashes that would otherwise be trucked to landfills. Malloy and a number of UMass Lowell engineering students developed the technology in conjunction with civil engineers at Tufts University.

    The new material consists of 20 percent recycled plastic and 80 percent coal ash. When the plastic is melted and combined with the ash, a solid material resembling a board or log is formed. This "log" is ground into small chips called synthetic lightweight aggregate (SLA). The resulting product is very lightweight.

    Malloy's second process creates roof shingles, developed specifically to help solve the plastic waste problem in Barbados. The method combines polyester plastic with other ingredients, forming tiles that are flame-retardant and can withstand sunlight aging. The slate-like roof tiles have been so successful they are exporting them to neighboring islands.

    Word of Malloy's success spread and he was asked to develop a yam stick, a 10-foot long stake used to support the potato crop, as a solution to depleting the island's forests.

    With the help of his students, Malloy has devised a "hot wrap extrusion" process. This involves dripping melted polyester onto a rotating mandrel, which forms a sheet of plastic that becomes a 10-foot long hollow tube.

    "We have a patented position on this one," Malloy says. "We invented the process and it could have other uses."

    Malloy says the interest in plastics recycling is so great that the University's plastics department is in the process of constructing a lab facility that is dedicated to research and education.

    UMass Lowell, a comprehensive university with special expertise in applied science and technology, is deeply committed to educating students for lifelong success and conducting research and outreach activities that sustain the economic, environmental, and social health of the region. Lowell offers its 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students more than 80 degree programs in the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Health Professions, and Management, and the Graduate School of Education.   

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