A more sustainable version of plastic could be a reality

Mountains of plastic in China

News: It’s well known; very little plastic is actually recycled globally–only 10% or less.

Why?

It’s the plastic itself along with the materials that are commonly added to it–dyes, flame retardants, and much more. These additives are hard to separate from the plastic during the recycling process due to the way plastics are currently made; the chemical bonds that hold the plastic together are hard to break. And, even when successfully recycled, few manufacturers want to use the resulting nurdles (pellets). The recycled plastic is lower quality than new plastic.

However, a newly developed plastic, a type of vitrimer, has chemical bonds that require “less energy to break than those in traditional plastics.” This new plastic can be separated “into its constituent parts” using just “water and a strong acid at room temperature.” This makes it much easier to sort out and collect the higher-quality plastic byproducts from the additives and even the lower-quality plastic components during the recycling process. The result is recycled plastic that is “on par with brand new material.”

Will manufacturers use and recycling plants accept this new material? That’s a next step …

Learn more: Read the article (Alex Fox, Science, 22 April 2019).

And, go to the sourceClosed-loop recycling of plastics enabled by dynamic covalent diketoenamine bonds (Peter R, Christensen, et al., Nature Chemistry, 22 April 2019).

Microplastics now found in the mountains

Microplastics now found in the mountains

News: Microplastics–tiny fragments of plastic waste–can be “ingested and inhaled by humans.” There are many news reports and studies that have shown that microplastics can now be found in all areas of the oceans–with severe impact on ocean life and increasing impact on people that live near the oceans. New research confirms that microplastics can now also be found in mountainous areas remote from cities. Specifically, researchers discovered microplastics “falling from the sky in dust, rain, and snow” in the Pyrenees mountains in southwestern France over 60 miles from the nearest city.

When analyzed, it was found that these microplastics mostly came from the single-use plastic packaging used in shipping. When swept up into the atmosphere, these tiny bits of plastic may float well over 60 miles before “falling back to Earth.” Extrapolating from the amount of plastics collected in the Pyrenees, the researchers estimate that some 2,000 tons of microplastics fall from the atmosphere over France each year.

Microplastics of this size “are virtually impossible to clean up.” The only solution “is to produce less in the first place.”

Learn more: Read the article (Alex Fox, Science, 15 April 2019).

And, go to the sourceAtmospheric transport and deposition of microplastics in a remote mountain catchment (Steve Allen, et al., Nature Geoscience, 15 April 2019).

See also —

Microplastic pollution can be spread by mosquitoes

How to deal with single-use plastics

How to deal with single-use plastics

Elephants and plastic waste; single-use plastics are a big problem
Elephants and plastic waste; single-use plastics are a big problem

Single-use plastics (SUPs) are terrible for our environment. Humans have created an estimated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics since the 1950’s–79% of this has ended up in landfills, floating in the oceans, or otherwise lays about us as waste. By 2050, the amount could be 12 billion metric tons. “Most plastics don’t biodegrade … so the plastic waste humans have generated could be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years.”

But, from a commercial standpoint, SUPs are great. Cheap, durable, and light, they work particularly well for food and beverage storage; they are used in huge amounts globally. And, they have become so inexpensive (and convenient) that they are mostly used just one time and then thrown away.

So, how can we begin to fix this problem of plastic pollution? How can we lessen the amount of SUPs that are used and produced?

Awareness of the problem is not enough; many people are aware of it. Pictures of plastic waste fouling beaches and animals killed by ingesting plastic abound, yet the problem and the SUP industry only grows.

Maybe the solution lies in disrupting SUPs economically. If the awareness was coupled with real out-of-pocket costs for consumers and industry to cover the actual cost of disposal and environmental damage (would you pay $0.75 more for your coffee order to properly dispose of that SUP cup?), then SUPs may become less cheap and less convenient. And, when technologies no longer have those advantages and are no longer quite so attractive commercially, then use and production often decline.

Read the article (Thales Teixeira, Scientific American, 3 April 2019).

And, go to the source — Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made (Roland Geyer, et al., Science Advances, 19 July 2017).