Around now, Canberrans are witnessing the signs known as 'corflutes' popping up like daisies around our suburbs. These are the flowering stage of the political cycle, and like flowers, they are designed to propagate the species. They are located prominently and brightly coloured in the hope of attracting pollinators.
Corflute political ads occupy two realms. In the abstract realm are the ideas such as slogans that exist only in the minds of people. Good things will happen if you vote one way, and bad things if you vote the other. Their aim is to attract enough voters to germinate a candidate into the parliamentary stage.
The physical parts are the injection-moulded polypropylene signs. Corflute is a popular medium because it's cheap and accepts good quality printing with strong colours. The fluted plastic is lightweight yet reasonably rigid, and can be easily mounted on wooden stakes. Conversely, rival corflutes can be quickly removed.
While the name is commonly used, the name 'Corflute' is registered to wholesale plastic packaging supplier company, Corex.
Italian chemist Professor Giulio Natta perfected the first polypropylene resin in Spain in 1954, and it rapidly became one of the largest volume plastics. Estimates are that this year, demand will increase to around 62 million tonnes. Aside from corflute, it's used in a range of applications such as packaging and electrical goods.
Corflute is reasonably durable but like the messages they carry, are prone to degrading when exposed to the light. As infrared light breaks bonds in the long-chain carbon molecules, the polypropylene crumbles into the environment. Unfortunately, unlike daisies they don't fertilise the soil.
Although it's relatively benign, polypropylene is not widely recycled. There are two main recycling methods: Mechanical recycling is complicated because separating types of plastic is difficult and there are concerns if the product is used for food contact applications. Alternatively, chemical methods use waste material as feedstock for new plastics.
While it remains controversial, considerable work is being done to convert plastics into fuel. Polypropylene waste is added to purified supercritical water at pressures approximately 2300 times greater than atmospheric pressure at sea level. The products include petrol and diesel-like oils. According to the developers of this method, the process could be used to convert roughly 90 per cent of the world's polypropylene waste each year into fuel.
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