Science

Researchers find ‘Holy Grail’ of fully recyclable plastic

Researchers find ‘Holy Grail’ of fully recyclable plastic”

This has made it impossible to create a material that can be reused repeatedly, or "upcycled" to form a better-quality product.

Scientists claim that the plastic can be broken and separated from the additives commonly used in products, leaving behind the original high quality material. The overall project was funded through Berkeley Lab's Laboratory Directed Research and Development program.

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

Its building block is a monomer called diketoenamine: a compound formed by sticking a triketone to an amine. All recycling plants do is chop up all the waste plastic that comes in the door into small bits.

That stringy web of molecules can be mixed with a wide variety of chemicals, giving plastics diverse properties that allow us to use them for just about anything from shopping bags to clothing, to straws, and furniture. They have created a recyclable plastic that can be disassembled into its constituent parts at the molecular level.

Christensen and his team discovered that one type of polymer, called polydiketoenamine, or PDK, can be successfully separated from additives after it is dunked in a highly acidic solution which leaves behind the original monomers.

"Most plastics were never made to be recycled", says lead author Peter Christensen, a postdoctoral researcher at Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry.

'But we have discovered a new way to assemble plastics that ties recycling into consideration from a molecular perspective'. In fact, less than one-third of recyclable plastic is repurposed after the recycling process, with the rest being tossed along with other non-recyclable waste or incinerated.

Many plastics used today were made with chemicals that make them more resilient, but these chemicals can also make it more hard to fully recycle the material or recycle them repeatedly.

"We see an opportunity to make a difference for where there are no recycling options".

We're surrounded by plastics for much of our lives.

'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'. The inheritance of the unpredictable properties prevented the creation of plastics whose original monomers can be recovered for reuse for as long as possible. They could also upcycle the plastic by adding additional features, such as flexibility. Their report on PDKs has been published recently in the journal Nature Chemistry.

In a ideal world, plastic would never be on a one-way trip into landfill - it's a vision we've strived to realise for decades. It takes 400 years to degrade but up to 91% of plastic is not being recycled., according to National Geographic.

Most plastic never gets recycled at all, often ending up in landfill or incineration depots instead.

A father and son (left) on a makeshift boat made from styrofoam paddle through a garbage filled river as they collect plastic bottles that they can sell in junkshops in Manila on March 19, 2015. Last year, researchers at Colorado State University announced the discovery of an "infinitely" recyclable polymer that can be turned into plastic and then turned back into monomers using a catalyst.

Shockingly, less than 0.4 per cent of these are recycled. Some make a plastic tough.

This lining keeps your coffee warm and stops the cardboard going soggy, but also makes the cup nearly impossible to recycle.



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