Look around you. I almost guarantee that wherever you are, you will be able to identify at least three objects that are solely made of, or contain plastics. This isn't even including the device you're reading this on.
This amazingly versatile material has become invaluable to our society. From packaging the things we eat, to the things we commute in, it's everywhere. Unfortunately, disposing of plastic once its served it's purpose is never easy.
Keen to experiment with the properties of these materials in a more hands on way, I cruised down to the local charity shop to see what I could find. When I returned home later that day, I was the proud owner of a dedicated desktop cupcake oven, 2 hotplates, and a shredder.
My initial idea was to hack these together with a few other basic elements to create a plastic extruder- think 3doodler but much more messy. However, I started experimenting with the equipment in it's current form.
HDPE is a readily available, easy recyclable thermoplastic, and is what milk bottles and tops are currently produced from. It can be moulded at relatively low temperatures, with few toxic fumes. This seemed like an excellent starting point.
What followed was a series of experiments, to see how I could manipulate the material. I started by cutting it down into small pieces by hand, so that it could fit into the individual 'pods' in the cupcake maker.
It was possible to take a handful of HDPE scraps, and then melt them down to a putty like consistency, which can be formed by hand (with gloves!) I experimenting by making up some rudimentary moulds, and compression moulded a few basic objects;
The best part about working with plastic is if your not happy with the end result, simply melt it down and reuse! This can be done several times before the quality of the plastic degrades. The final material is stable, strong and durable, and can easily be worked with common woodworking tools.
Next up is looking at common shopping bags.