New Infinitely-Recyclable Plastic Could Potentially Solve the Plastic Crisis

Pablo Tucker
May 11, 2019

Recycling existing plastics is problematic due to the use of additives, such as dyes for color and flame retardants. "In any case, we have found another approach to gather plastics that thinks about reusing from an atomic point of view".

Prior to the discovery, the unpredictability of the properties had made it almost impossible to perform what has been coined "the Holy Grail of recycling", a "circular" material that can be used over and over again for any number of products, including adhesives, phone cases, computer cables and more. The researchers' hope is that this new plastic material could come to replace various plastics that can't be recycled now because of how they're created: those in shoes or phone cases, for instance.

Brett Helms, the group scientist at the Berkeley Lab who led the study, instructed ABC Recordsdata that the novel discovery "could presumably vastly decrease the leakage of plastics into the ambiance". They're calling it polydiketoenamine or PDK, and this novel plastic could presumably additionally be disassembled all of the model all of the method in which down to the molecular degree. As a result, bits of plastics with different chemical compositions get all mixed up, and it's tough to know what sort of a plastic the recycling process will ultimately spit out.

Light yet sturdy, plastic is great - until you no longer need it. The scientists continued playing around with PDK, until they discovered that PDK monomers could be remade into polymers that could form completely new plastic materials. Only less than a third of recyclable plastic is repurposed after the recycling process, and the rest are either disposed of as non-recyclable waste or incinerated. According to the latest publicly available data, only 9.1 per cent of the plastic created in the 2015 was recycled, down from 9.5 per cent in 2014, according to the EPA in the US.

The full study was published last month in the journal Nature Chemistry. The primary concern for the research team was finding a way to separate the polymers of the plastic from the various additives which are so often used to give the finished product specific qualities.

"Circular plastics and plastics upcycling are grand challenges", he said.

The researchers want to divert plastics from landfills and the oceans by incentivizing the recovery and reuse of plastics, which could be possible with polymers formed from PDKs.

Many plastics can't be reused due to additives mixed in with them, making them hard to dispose of because the monomers can't separate from them.

"If these facilities were created to recycle or upcycle PDK and related plastics, then we would be able to more effectively divert plastic from landfills and the oceans", he said. "We've already seen the impact of plastic waste leaking into our aquatic ecosystems, and this trend is likely to be exacerbated by the increasing amounts of plastics being manufactured and the downstream pressure it places on our municipal recycling infrastructure".

"This is an exciting time to start thinking about how to design both materials and recycling facilities to enable circular plastics", he said.

Researchers affirm the following notion is to create PDK plastics to use in textiles, 3D printing and foams.

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