Published: Sat, May 11, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

New material may revolutionise the way we recycle plastic

New material may revolutionise the way we recycle plastic

The Berkeley Lab says most of these chemical substances had beforehand prevented plastic from achieving "the holy grail of recycling", and that PDK plastic could presumably very neatly be the acknowledge.

A group of scientists at the U.S. Bureau of Energy's (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has structured a recyclable plastic that can be dismantled into its constituent parts at the sub-atomic dimension, and after that reassembled into an alternate shape, surface, and shading over and over without loss of execution or quality.

"But we have discovered a new way to assemble plastics that takes recycling into consideration from a molecular perspective", Christensen said.

Known as poly (diketoenamine), or PDK, the new type of plastic material could help stem the tide of plastics piling up at recycling plants, as the bonds PDK forms are able to be reversed via a simple acid bath, the researchers believe. When the monomers are reused to make a new plastic, they are free of the characteristics that gave the original material is color, shape, rigidity, or stretchiness. The goal is to improve the recycling process so that fewer plastics end up in landfills or oceans.

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.

The chemicals added to make them useful-fillers for toughness, plasticizers for flexibility-tend to stay in place even after the material has been processed at a recycling plant. Even the most recyclable plastic, PET - or poly (ethylene terephthalate) - is only recycled at a rate of 20-30%, with the rest typically going to incinerators or landfills, where the carbon-rich material takes centuries to decompose.

Plastics today are made up of large molecules called polymers which in turn are created from shorter compounds called monomers. When the chopped-up plastic is melted to make a new material, it's hard to predict which properties it will inherit from the original plastics.

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If all goes well, we could be on the verge of a plastic revolution.

Though PDK only exists in the lab now (meaning products won't be available for purchase for some time), the researchers are nonetheless excited by what they've discovered and the potential positive impact it could have. "With PDKs, the immutable bonds of conventional plastics are replaced with reversible bonds that allow the plastic to be recycled more effectively", Helms says.

All plastics are more or less repeating units - or monomers - of compounds derived from an organic substance like petroleum. Well, unlike aluminum or glass, plastic can only be recycled a finite number of times - usually once or twice, according to Earth911. "We're at a critical point where we need to think about the infrastructure needed to modernize recycling facilities for future waste sorting and processing".

Plastic recycling figures are trending down, making breakthroughs in recyclable plastic all the more important.

Last month, a separate study estimated that the pollution caused by plastics in the world's oceans amounted to a $US2.5 trillion ($A3.6 trillion) problem that every country in the world has to deal with.

Light yet sturdy, plastic is great - until you no longer need it.

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