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Construction and Building Materials 73 (2014) 682–687

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Properties of plastic mortar made with recycled polyethylene

Zhi Ge a, Dawei Huang a, Renjuan Sun a,⇑, Zhili Gao b
Department of Transportation Engineering, School of Civil Engineering, Shandong University, Jinan 250061, China
Department of Construction Management and Engineering, College of Engineering, North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND 58108, USA

h i g h l i g h t s

 The effects of fly ash, bitumen, and nano-calcium carbonate on mechanical properties of plastic mortar were investigated.
 The plastic mortar shows high temperature stability.
 Plastic mortar has low water absorption and high sulfate corrosion resistance.
 The SEM test indicates that the PET and aggregate were bonded well.

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: This paper studied the mechanical properties and durability of plastic mortar made with recycled Poly-
Received 15 July 2014 ethylene Terephthalate (PET). The effects of gradation and admixtures, including bitumen, fly ash, and
Received in revised form 30 September 2014 nano-calcium carbonate, on strength were investigated. The temperature stability was studied based
Accepted 8 October 2014
on the compressive strength at different temperatures. The water absorption and sulfate corrosion resis-
tance were conducted to evaluate the durability. The microstructure of the plastic mortar was observed
by Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). The test results show that increasing the content of fine particles
could first increase and then decrease the strength. Partially replacing PET with bitumen and/or fly ash
Recycled polyethylene terephthalate
Mechanical property
could significantly influence the strength. But the nano-calcium carbonate had no significant effect on
Durability strength. The plastic mortar had high stability as temperature changed from 30 to 90 °C. The strength
Temperature stability was similar for specimens under different testing temperatures. The plastic mortar had very low water
Admixtures absorption and high sulfate corrosion resistance. The SEM results revealed that the PET and aggregates
SEM were bonded well.
Ó 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction post-consumer PET could cause environmental issues due to its

non-biodegradable property and gases released by incineration
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), one of the most common [4]. Therefore, finding effective ways to reuse waste PET bottles
consumer plastics used, is widely used for bottles and containers and improve the recycling rate is becoming very important for
of food products and other consumer goods, including soft drinks, environmental sustainability. Studies had been carried out in
alcoholic beverages, detergents, and so on [1]. Despite its wide recent years to convert PET wastes into construction materials.
usage, large amount of PET bottles were discarded every year Currently, there are three major ways of recycling PET bottles as
and became a pollutant source. For example, 6 billion PET bottles construction materials, including depolymerization of PET bottles
were discarded in 2009 in Beijing, China, which produced 150 into unsaturated polyester resin [5–8], usage of PET fiber as con-
thousand tons of waste PET [2]. According to National Association crete reinforcement [9–12], and replacement of partial aggregate
for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), there was 5.6 billion with PET wastes [13–15]. Among these methods, using waste PET
pounds of PET bottles available in the United States for recycling bottles as aggregate in Ordinary Portland Cement (OPC) concretes
in 2012. However, the recycling rate was only 30.8% [3]. or mortars could provide an effective way to recycle waste PET bot-
Except for the low rate of PET recycling, improper disposal of tles. Physical and mechanical properties of OPC concretes or mor-
tars with waste PET aggregates had been examined in the studies
⇑ Corresponding author. Tel.: +86 0531 88392842. [16–20]. However, there are disadvantages for concrete with PET,
E-mail address: (R. Sun). such as high temperature sensitivity, high cost, low bond strength
0950-0618/Ó 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Z. Ge et al. / Construction and Building Materials 73 (2014) 682–687 683

between PET fiber and cementitious materials, and low strength

and elastic modulus [21–23].
Recently, a new method of using waste PET as binding materials
was proposed [24,25]. The waste PET bottles were shredded,
heated to certain temperature, and mixed with aggregate to obtain
a uniform fused mixture. Khoury et al. used soil, clay or sand to
make plastic soil [24]. Ge et al. made PET mortar with sand or recy-
cled clay brick [25]. Both research show promising results. Com-
pared with traditional cement based material, the new type of
mixture had quick strength gain. However, studies on the durabil-
ity of the plastic mixture and effects of admixtures on the proper-
ties are limited. More research is needed.
The aim of this study is to investigate (1) the effects of gradation
and admixtures, including bitumen, fly ash and nano-calcium, on
mechanical properties of the plastic mortar; (2) the durability of
the plastic mortar; and (3) the stability of plastic mortar under dif-
ferent environmental temperatures.
Fig. 1. SEM of nano-calcium carbonate.

2. Experimental materials and methods

Table 2
2.1. Materials Grading of aggregate.

Sieve size (mm) Grading

Discarded PET bottles were collected and cut into flakes. In order to obtain only
PET material, bottle caps and label papers were removed. The density, water 1 2 3 4 5 6
absorption and melting point of the waste PET were 1.35 g/cm3, 0.16%, and
4.75 100 100 100 100 100 100
250 °C, respectively.
2.36 85 88 95 95 95 100
The natural river sand and mineral filler were combined to produce fine aggre-
1.18 50 53 65 65 65 80
gates with different grading for the plastic mortar. The bulk density and water
0.60 28 20 44 44 44 60
absorption of sand were 2.40 g/cm3 and 2.76%, respectively. The maximum size of
0.30 15 18 31 32.5 34 50
mineral filler was less than 0.075 mm.
0.15 8 10 21 21.5 24 35
The admixtures used in this study include bitumen, fly ash, and nano-calcium
0.075 5 7 7.5 15 18 20
carbonate. The bitumen was ordinary grade 70 bitumen with penetration of
70 mm, ductility of 100 cm, softening point of 48.2 °C, and flash point of 264 °C. Fineness modulus 3.14 3.11 2.44 2.42 2.38 1.75
Type F fly ash with 3.88% CaO was used in this study. The main chemical composi-
tions of cement and fly ash are provided in Table 1. The nano-calcium carbonate
was from Shanxi, China. As shown in Fig. 1, the particle diameter ranged from 5
to 40 nm. Table 3
The mix proportions of mortar with different admixtures.

Mix Bitumen (%) Fly ash (%) Nano-calcium carbonate (%)

2.2. Experimental design
1 0 0 0
2 5 0 0
The effects of aggregate gradation, admixtures, and testing temperature on the
3 10 0 0
mechanical properties were studied. The mineral filler was combined with sand to
4 15 0 0
form six different grading (Table 2). The fineness modulus ranged from 1.75 to 3.14.
5 0 5 0
Three different levels were selected for each admixture. The mix proportions were
6 0 10 0
shown in Table 3. The temperature stability of the plastic mortar was evaluated
7 0 15 0
under the testing temperatures of 30 °C, 45 °C, 60 °C, 75 °C and 90 °C.
8 0 0 2
Based on the previous study [27], a sand to PET ratio of 3 was selected for all
9 0 0 4
mixes. To prepare the specimen, sand was first dried to constant weight in the oven
10 0 0 6
at 110 °C, and then mixed and heated with PET flakes at 280–290 °C until the PET
flakes were melted. After that, it was manually mixed to obtain a uniform mixture.
The mixture was then poured into the mold, which had been pre-heated to 180 °C,
and compacted to produce plastic mortar. After cured under 180 °C for two hours,
The resistance to sulfate corrosion was evaluated based on the wetting and dry-
specimens were demolded and cured in the room condition until test.
ing method. For each cycle, the 50  50  50 mm specimens were soaked in the 5%
The compressive and flexural strengths of the plastic mortar specimens were
sodium sulfate solution for 16 h, dried for one hour, and then put into the 80 °C
measured according to ASTM C 109 [26] and ASTM C 348 [27]. The size of speci-
oven for 6 h. After that, samples were cooled down to the room temperature. The
mens for the compressive strength test was 50  50  50 mm. Prisms of
weight and compressive strength were then tested.
40  40  160 mm were casted for the flexural strength test. Since the strength
Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) was employed to examine the microstruc-
development was very fast for the plastic mortar, only one-day compressive and
ture. A gold casting was applied to the surface of samples before the testing. The
flexural strengths were tested. All strengths were obtained from three samples,
microstructure was observed under SU-70 SEM, manufactured by Japan.
and the average of three samples was presented and discussed in the study.
To test the water absorption, specimens were first dried in the oven. The dry
mass of specimens in air was then weighed. After that, the specimens were
immersed into the water. At testing time, specimens were taken out of water with 3. Results and discussions
its surface water wiped with wet towel and its saturated surface-dry mass was
3.1. Effects of gradation

Table 1 Figs. 2 and 3 show the effect of aggregate gradation on the

The main chemical components of fly ash and cement (%). strength. Typically, the strength first increased and then decreased
as the fineness modulus decreased. Grading 3 and 4 had similar
Components CaO SiO2 Al2O3 Fe2O3 MgO Na2O SO3 LOI
fineness modulus but the strength was much higher for grading
Fly ash 3.88 45.66 31.51 9.70 0.89 3.02 0.37 4.97
4. The reason was that grading 4 contained more fine particles,
Cement 64.63 21.96 4.73 3.68 2.59 0.56 0.3 1.97
which were less than 0.075 mm. As the fine content increased,
684 Z. Ge et al. / Construction and Building Materials 73 (2014) 682–687


Compressive strength (MPa)







1 2 3 4 5 6
Grading Fig. 4. Effect of bitumen on compressive strength.

Fig. 2. Effect of aggregate gradation on compressive strength.

Flexural strength (MPa)

1 2 3 4 5 6
Grading Fig. 5. Effect of bitumen on flexural strength.

Fig. 3. Effect of aggregate gradation on flexural strength.

bitumen increased. The flexural strength increased 68% as the bitu-
men content changed from 0% to 10%. The possible reason is that
the strength first increased and then decreased. Specimen with 15% addition of bitumen could improve the bond between the fine
fine particles had the highest strength. Compared with specimen aggregate and PET. Therefore, the strength of plastic mortar
with 0% fine particles, the compressive and flexural strength increased with the bitumen. But, compared with PET, the bitumen
increased 14% and 16%, respectively. There are two possible mech- has low modulus and could cause large deformation under com-
anisms for strength increment: filling effect and seeding effect. The pressive loading, which reduced the compressive strength.
fine particles in the mortar could fill the voids inside and make the Figs. 6 and 7 show the effect of fly ash on the compressive
mixture denser. The fine particles could also act as nucleation cen- and flexural strength of plastic mortar. Different from bitumen,
ters for the crystallization of PET. The strength increases as the replacing PET with fly ash increased both compressive strength
amount of crystal increases. However, as the content of fine parti-
cles continuously increased, it is hard to achieve a uniform mixture
due to decreased workability. Therefore, the strength, especially
flexural strength, started to decrease. Specimens with grading 4,
5 and 6 had similar compressive strength. However, specimen with
grading 4 had higher flexural strength. Thus, gradation 4 was
selected for the following study.

3.2. Effects of admixtures

Figs. 4 and 5 show the effect of bitumen on the compressive and

flexural strength of plastic mortar. As the content of asphalt
increased, the compressive strength first increased and then
decreased. The mix with 5% bitumen had the highest strength of
36.2 MPa, which was 10.7% higher than the strength of specimen
without bitumen. As the content increased to 15%, the compressive
strength decreased to 30.5 MPa. Different from the compressive
strength, the flexural strength increased fast as the content of Fig. 6. Effect of fly ash on compressive strength.
Z. Ge et al. / Construction and Building Materials 73 (2014) 682–687 685

3.3. Temperature stability

Properties of all materials are more or less affected by the ambi-

ent temperature. Polymer materials tend to be more sensitive than
conventional engineering materials. Therefore, it is crucial to eval-
uate the stability of PET mortar within its working temperature. As
shown in Fig. 9, the PET mortar had excellent temperature stability.
Under different temperatures ranging from 30 to 60 °C, the com-
pressive strength was almost constant. After 60 °C, the compres-
sive strength started to decrease slowly as temperature
increased. Only 7% strength loss happened when the temperature
increased from 30 to 90 °C. This phenomenon is related to the glass
transition temperature and crystallization of PET. The glass transi-
tion temperature of PET is between 67–81 °C. Normally, PET can-
not be used at much higher temperatures than its glass
transition temperature. However, the crystalline structure, which
was formed during the cooling process, will act as a static, non-
Fig. 7. Effect of fly ash on flexural strength.
movable system until melting begins in the crystalline phase
around 240–250 °C. Therefore, the PET mortar is allowed to be
and flexural strength. As the percentage of fly ash changed from 0% used for a wide range of environmental temperatures.
to 15%, the compressive strength increased 32% and the flexural
strength increased 79%. The highest compressive and flexural 3.4. Durability and microstructure
strength was 43.1 and 12.9 MPa, respectively. There are three
major mechanisms for strength improvement: (1) since fly ash Fig. 10 shows the water absorption with time. After immersed
contains large amount of ionic oxides, it has a surface with large in the water for 7 days, the PET mortar only absorbed small
negative charge, which supports the development of stronger links amount of water (0.47% by weight), which was much lower than
with polymer mix; (2) fly ash particles could act as nucleation normal cement mortar or concrete. The figure also indicates that
centers for the crystallization of PET. Pervious research show that more than half of the water was absorbed during the first day. After
PET with fly ash has larger crystalline degree [28]; (3) besides 3 days, the absorption became stable.
increasing the degree of crystallization, replacement of PET with Fig. 11 shows that, after 10 wetting and drying cycles, the com-
fly ash could increase the workability of PET mortar due to spher- pressive strength was almost the same for specimens in the
ical shape of fly ash particle. Better workability would form more sodium sulfate solution and water. The strength deduction was less
uniform and denser mixture and thus improve the strength. Base than 3%. However, after 20 cycles, the strength had an abrupt
on the results, 15% fly ash is recommended. Replacing PET with deduction. Only 36.3% of compressive strength was remained for
fly ash could not only improve the strength, but also reduce the specimens in the sodium sulfate solution. However, this significant
cost and the energy required to produce the plastic mortar. reduction in strength was not caused by the sulfate corrosion
Nano-calcium carbonate is widely used in the plastics industry, because the same phenomenon also happened with the specimens
especially in high-grade plastic products industry, to improve the in the water. After 20 cycles, the compressive strength was only
properties of plastics, such as rheology, toughness, strength and 14.3 MPa for specimens in water. This deduction could be caused
so on. Fig. 8 shows the influence of nano-calcium carbonate on by aging of PET because both the aging temperature of PET and
the strength of plastic mortar. Samples with different amount of drying temperature were 80 °C. Therefore, the drying method
nano-calcium carbonate had similar strength around 32 MPa. This was modified to eliminate the influence of aging. After soaking in
could be caused by the non-uniform dispersion of the nano-calcium the sulfate solution for 16 h, the specimen was dried in the vacu-
carbonate. In this study, the melted PET, sand, and nano-calcium umed oven at 40 °C for 6 h. Fig. 12 indicates that the PET mortar
carbonate was hand mixed. Therefore, it was hard to disperse the had very high sulfate corrosion resistance. After 30 cycles, the com-
nano-calcium carbonate in the PET matrix uniformly. Further stud- pressive strength was almost the same as the initial strength. The
ies, such as high energy mixing and adding surfactant, are needed to high resistance could be caused by the low water absorption. The
investigate the effect of nano-calcium carbonate. sulfate solution was hard to penetrate into the specimen and,
therefore, less crystalline force would be produced. Also, different

Fig. 8. Effect of nano-calcium carbonate on compressive strength. Fig. 9. The temperature stability of PET mortar.
686 Z. Ge et al. / Construction and Building Materials 73 (2014) 682–687

Fig. 10. Water absorption of PET mortar.


Compressive strength (MPa)

Sulfate solution



0 10 20
Fig. 13. Microstructure of PET mortar.

Fig. 11. Compressive strength after wetting–drying cycles.

has high potential to be used as rapid patching and sealing material
for asphalt or concrete pavement. The high temperature stability of
plastic mortar could mitigate the rutting distress of asphalt mate-
rial at summer time. Since the material has very low water absorp-
Compressive strength (MPa)

30 tion and high durability and anti-corrodibility, it could be used in

aggressive environments or as protection material for steel rebar.

4. Conclusions
This paper investigated the properties of the plastic mortar
10 made with recycled PET. The study showed encouraging results
and proved that it was possible to make mortar with recycled
PET. The major conclusions are listed as follows:
0 10 20 30 1. Increasing the content of fine particles could first increase and
Cycles then decrease the strength of plastic mortar. The specimen with
Fig. 12. Compressive strength after wetting–drying cycle in sulfate solution. 15% fine particles had the highest compressive strength.
2. Both bitumen and fly ash increased the flexural strength. As the
from the cement mortar, there was no chemical reaction between bitumen increased from 0% to 15%, the compressive strength
PET and sulfate. was first increased and then decreased. However, for fly ash,
Fig. 13 shows the microstructure of plastic mortar. The mixture the compressive strength increased as the content changed
was uniform with several isolated air bubbles, which could be from 0% to 15%. Different from bitumen and fly ash, the nano-
entrapped during the mixing process. The PET and sand particles calcium carbonate had no significant effect on the strength.
were bonded well. Different from cement mortar, the interfacial 3. The PET mortar had excellent temperature stability. The com-
zone was dense and no microcracks or voids were found in the pressive strength was stable as the temperature increased from
zone. The dense structure of PET mortar could be one of the rea- 30 to 90 °C.
sons for the low water absorption and high sulfate corrosion 4. The specimen had very low water absorption, which was 0.47%,
resistance. and high sulfate corrosion resistance. The strength was almost
As the test results indicate the newly developed plastic mortar constant after 30 testing cycles. The SEM results show that
could reach high compressive and flexural strength at only one day the PET mortar had uniform and dense structure. The PET and
with proper mix proportion and curing. In this case, the material sand was bonded well.
Z. Ge et al. / Construction and Building Materials 73 (2014) 682–687 687

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