Scientists create a plastic that can be recycled INDEFINITELY without degrading
- Worldwide output of plastic is expected to exceed 500m metric tons by 2050
- Researchers from Colorado State University are behind the breakthrough
- Their method breaks plastic down into its constituent chemical ‘building blocks’
- These can then be purified and turned back into plastic of a similar quality
A new kind of plastic has been developed that can be recycled indefinitely.
Ordinary plastic cannot be recycled repeatedly, because it degrades when it is recycled over time.
Plastics are mechanically ground up and made into lower quality plastics.
For instance a clear plastic bottle, when reprocessed, has to be used as a lower grade of plastic, such as a carpet or a fleece.
And while biodegradable plastics have been developed, once they decompose, the chemical building blocks that make them up cannot be reused to make plastic.
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A new kind of plastic has been developed that can be recycled indefinitely. Ordinary plastic cannot be recycled repeatedly, because it degrades when it is recycled over time (stock image)
Worldwide the production of plastic has increased to the point where output is expected to exceed 500 million metric tons by 2050.
As most plastics are produced for single-use applications, these materials will persist in the environment for centuries.
So researchers from Colorado State University said it was a pressing need to develop a plastic that can be reused.
They have developed a chemical recycling method, which breaks the plastic down into its ‘building blocks’ that can then be purified and turned back into plastic.
Dr Jian-Bo Zhu and colleagues took an existing plastic and improved it.
They identified two catalysts that can break down this polymer into constituent monomers with great efficiency – at about 85 per cent – at which point the monomers can be reused.
Rresearchers from Colorado State University developed a chemical recycling method, which breaks the plastic down into its ‘building blocks’ that can then be purified and turned back into plastic. They hope this will cut down on plastic waste (stock image)
Commenting on the research, Andrew Dove of the University of Birmingham said: ‘Studies such as that of Zhu et al., in which disposed plastics can be infinitely recycled without deleterious effects on their properties, can lead to a world in which plastics at the end of their life are not considered as waste but as raw materials to generate high-value products and virgin plastics.’
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Science.
This is not the first time in recent days that a solution to the problem of recycling plastic has been proposed.
Last week, British researchers announced they had inadvertently created a plastic-digesting enzyme while conducting X-ray experiments on natural bacteria found in a Japanese recycling centre, causing it to mutate into a more powerful enzyme.
Tests showed that the lab-made mutant had a supercharged ability to break down polyethylene terephthalate (PET), one of the most popular forms of plastic employed by the food and drinks industry, and convert it into its original chemicals.
This could help reduce waste output and also tackle the use of crude oil in plastic manufacture.
HOW DAMAGING ARE PLASTIC BOTTLES?
Of 30 billion plastic bottles used by UK households each year, only 57 per cent are currently recycled.
With half of these going to landfill, half of all plastic bottles that are recycled go to waste.
Around 700,000 plastic bottles a day end up as litter.
This is largely due to plastic wrapping around bottles that are non-recyclable.
Bottles are a major contributor to the increasing amount of plastic waste in the world’s oceans.
Researchers warned eight million tonnes of plastics currently find their way into the ocean every year – the equivalent of one truckload every minute.
The amount of plastic rubbish in the world’s oceans will outweigh fish by 2050 unless the world takes drastic action to further recycle, a report released in 2016 revealed.
At current rates, this will worsen to four truckloads per minute in 2050 and outstrip native life to become the largest mass inhabiting the oceans.
An overwhelming 95 per cent of plastic packaging – worth £65 – £92billion – is lost to the economy after a single use, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation report stated.
And available research estimates that there are more than 150 million tonnes of plastics in the ocean today.
Plastic pollution is ruining the ecosystems of the world, both marine and terrestrial. It litters shorelines, snags animals and suffocates entire populations of animals
So much plastic is dumped into the sea each year that it would fill five carrier bags for every foot of coastline on the planet, scientists have warned.
More than half of the plastic waste that flows into the oceans comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
The only industrialized western country on the list of top 20 plastic polluters is the United States at No. 20.
The US and Europe are not mismanaging their collected waste, so the plastic trash coming from those countries is due to litter, researchers said.
While China is responsible for 2.4 million tons of plastic that makes its way into the ocean, nearly 28 percent of the world total, the United States contributes just 77,000 tons, which is less than one percent, according to the study published in the journal Science.
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