Four ways to make plastic from household items, such as potatoes or milk with vinegar
January 13, 2011 12:44 PM   Subscribe

How To Make Stuff has four ways to make plastic at home, from stryofoam with acetone, potatoes with vinegar and glycerin, milk with vinegar, and cream with lemon juice. Instructables has similar recipes with visuals (styrofoam plastic, potato or corn starch plastic, and milk and vinegar plastic).
posted by filthy light thief (30 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite

 
Related: an article on natural plastics from New York Times. (via io9)
posted by filthy light thief at 12:47 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 12:59 PM on January 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


Cream and Lemon Juice Plastic

For lunch I had leftover spaghetti with a lemon sauce--mostly just cream and lemon, mainly. I assumed the chewy crunchy bit was a clump of twice-melted Parmesan. Maybe I should have paid more attention.
posted by hydrophonic at 12:59 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


This will be useful after the zombie apocalypse. Thanks! I have to wonder, though, how well the food-based plastics will stand up to moisture.
posted by cereselle at 1:01 PM on January 13, 2011


There was a radio piece (probably on This American Life, I forget) where they interviewed a guy who ran a button factory in the US (probably New York). Years ago he made lots of buttons out of milk. Presumably it was this same kind of milk plastic.
posted by GuyZero at 1:03 PM on January 13, 2011


As an encore, maybe they could give us one video offering ways to eliminate plastic at home.
posted by nickjadlowe at 1:03 PM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was actually just seaching for a way to make styrofoam, these are for turning styrofoam in to a solid styrene plastic. Anyone know how to re-foam it? At the factory they drive off the solvent with steam heat, which boils the solvent and puffs the plastic.
posted by 445supermag at 1:07 PM on January 13, 2011


At the factory they drive off the solvent with steam heat, which boils the solvent and puffs the plastic.Ace

Acetone: This colorless, mobile, flammable liquid...
posted by benzenedream at 1:20 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


cereselle: I have to wonder, though, how well the food-based plastics will stand up to moisture.

GuyZero: There was a radio piece (probably on This American Life, I forget) where they interviewed a guy who ran a button factory in the US (probably New York). Years ago he made lots of buttons out of milk. Presumably it was this same kind of milk plastic.

According to this write-up (Google docs version of this MS Word doc), plastics from casein (the main protein found in the milk of mammals including cows, goats, and humans) were used for buttons as the casein made strong, hard substances that would not dissolve in water.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:22 PM on January 13, 2011


nickjadlowe: As an encore, maybe they could give us one video offering ways to eliminate plastic at home.

Plastic "Smithing" at Instructables, apparently a fumeless way to compress plastic bags into a hard shape. Make sure you have bags made of LDPE (low density polyethylene) which melts at 248 F.

See also: fusing plastic bags together (YouTube vid, from Etsy Labs). NOTE: you'll need a well-ventilated area, as you'll produce some nasty fumes.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:29 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who's now tempted to make a milk jug out of milk? Or a potato cannon out of potatoes?

(true, these plastics are a bit brittle, making a potato potato cannon slightly suicidal, but a man can dream...)
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:39 PM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


At the factory they drive off the solvent with steam heat, which boils the solvent and puffs the plastic.

I think polystyrene foaming is done in a solvent-free system; the steam serves to soften the polystyrene beads and expand gasses trapped in the polystyrene during polymerization (I think pentane is used for this purpose).

I think this would be tricky to do at home; I'm not sure it's even practical to "re-foam" PS that's already been expanded.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:40 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hey thanks, FLT. I'll definitely be trying out the milk plastic, then.
posted by cereselle at 1:43 PM on January 13, 2011


Mrs. Plinth is a plastics engineer. This article would give her hives.
I mean, I used to be able to send her into fits by asking her some random thing was Bakelite (now she just rolls her eyes).

Melting styrofoam in acetone is not making plastic. This is like saying that by dissolving watercolor paint in water and letting it dry out in a different container, you're making paint.
posted by plinth at 1:54 PM on January 13, 2011


don't use your homemade styrene utensils to cut into citrus, though.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 2:11 PM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


On the first video (milk & vinegar): "It looks like cheese, it kind of feels like cheese" — that's because it is cheese. As is the cream & lemon juice recipe. And though he says "you wouldn't want to eat it," it's actually decent — most of the vinegar stays in the liquid phase so the cheese does not taste overly vinegary. It wouldn't hurt to add a pinch or two of salt, though.

Cheesemaking begins by curdling milk, which is generally done in one of two ways: either with acid (as in the vinegar or lemon juice here) or by the action of rennet, an enzyme. Most commercial cheeses are rennet cheeses, but if you want to get into home cheesemaking acid-set cheeses are a good start, as they tend to be easier: heat milk, add acid, let curdle, drain curds; whereas rennet cheeses tend to be more involved. Acid-set cheeses tend not to melt when heated, so it's not so good if you're looking for some gooey melty goodness, but it offers its own advantages: you can fry it up and it gets a nice brown crust while holding its shape, which is tasty in its own way.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:19 PM on January 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


GuyZero: "There was a radio piece (probably on This American Life, I forget) where they interviewed a guy who ran a button factory in the US (probably New York). Years ago he made lots of buttons out of milk. Presumably it was this same kind of milk plastic."

"Milk Plastic" sounds like an album name from some sort of Japanese band.
posted by symbioid at 2:42 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Milk plastic—casein! I did a science-fair project on this, back in the days before the Internet was of much use.
posted by limeonaire at 3:00 PM on January 13, 2011


The person who wrote up the Potato or Cornstarch Plastic Instructable mentioned he did an early version of that instructable for a science fair project (whenever that was), and ranked well.

And I just noteced that the above-mentioned Instructable-er linked to his advanced Starch Plastic recipe, which calls for a more pure source of corn starch and a pressure cooker.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:28 PM on January 13, 2011


There are knitting needles available that are made from casein (milk plastic). I haven't worked with them myself, but I've heard that they are really nice to knit with.

I've also heard that they taste terrible.
posted by polymath at 4:31 PM on January 13, 2011


Looking for innovative ways to make shanks, I mean decorative hors d'œuvre serving ideas has been a hobby of mine for the last few years so this will come in handy.
posted by Iron Rat at 4:33 PM on January 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


One word: Plastics!
posted by killdevil at 4:37 PM on January 13, 2011


Reminds me of the Toaster Project guy who tried to build one from scratch--collecting the raw materials, refining them, and building a finished product (previously). It got complicated real fast.
posted by jng at 5:12 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sorry, mixing Styrofoam into acetone makes a very nice improvised napalm, though it's expensive and burns with a nasty black flame.

Forget the nonsense in this article. The two best do-it-yourself plastics are epoxy mixed with fly ash and two part urethane.
posted by Tube at 6:02 PM on January 13, 2011


Melting styrofoam in acetone is not making plastic.

No, but is it ever fun! A friend and I once dissolved a very large box of foam packing peanuts in a coffee mug with less acetone than you'd expect.

And then we lit it on fire. I think the final product is what's referred to as "a mess".
posted by GuyZero at 9:10 PM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think I have to use one of these home made plastc recipes to make a human scull for my kitchen.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:01 AM on January 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


No chemicals are involved in transforming the potato into a good plastic replica.

Materials Used:

* 2 tsps vinegar
* ½ tsp baking soda
* 2 tsps glycerin

posted by primer_dimer at 2:34 AM on January 14, 2011


I need to learn to not read these home chemistry experiments.

They're "making" "plastic" but don't even really understand the concept of "plastic" other than as an empirical substance. It is like if they were "making" "rocks" by digging them out of the ground and then washing them off with water.

Also Acetone is corrosive? Vinegar isn't and not only that the "plastic" contains no chemicals?

From TFA:

Plastic may seem like a simple object at first glance, but it is actually a complex mixture of elements and compounds. It is created through the processing units of factories.

Arggghhhh shoot me now, I mean polyethylene is so simple it can be summed up as -CH2-

Science education may have just hit a new low.
posted by koolkat at 5:56 AM on January 14, 2011


Plastic, you mean like those Chinese shrimp chips, before they get cooked (at which point they transform into tasty styrofoam)?
posted by Goofyy at 6:06 AM on January 14, 2011


One idea I've had, was using some process to reuse plastic (bags, perhaps) to seal the roofs of the shanties poor folks live, in places like South Africa or Brazil. Funny enough, at the time, the purpose was to facilitate the collection of rain water. There was a drought in South Africa when I lived there.
posted by Goofyy at 6:20 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


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