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).