It can be said that the world is very addicted to plastic, when trying to recycle it, plastic is cheaper to recycle, so an unimaginable amount of plastic waste is thrown away and litters our oceans.
Of all the new plastics ever created, more than 6 billion metric tons of plastic waste (which does not decompose, but simply breaks down into ever smaller pieces) has been created, of which less than 10% is recycled today.
Not only is the production of the new plastic incredibly wasteful, it also uses fossil fuel-derived raw materials that must remain in the ground if we are to avoid climate change.
To make a small impact on this global problem, two materials scientists at Boise State University in the US have developed a new type of plastic that, unlike existing plastics, is not made from crude oil and its derivatives.
What’s more, small lab experiments replicating industrial processes show that approximately 93% of new plastic can be recycled into pure raw materials, even if the plastic is mixed with other untreated plastic waste, paper and aluminium.
In their paper, Alison Christie and Scott Phillips describe the production of a new type of plastic based on poly(ethyl cyanoacrylate) or PECA, derived from the monomer used to make superglue.
Like all plastic polymers, a new product is formed during the polymerization process, when single and repeating monomer units are joined together by a chemical reaction to form one long chain.
Christie and Phillips suggest that in commercial scale production, PECA’s new recyclable plastic could replace polystyrene plastic, which is not accepted in most recycling programs.
Polystyrene plastic comes in several forms: Styrofoam, also known as Styrofoam, which is used as a lightweight packaging material or to make takeaway food containers; Thermoplastic polystyrene is used to make disposable plates, cups and cutlery.
While it would be great to replace these products with easily recyclable alternatives, polystyrene accounts for only 6% of current plastic waste, a small fraction that poses a much bigger problem.
However, Christie and Phillips believe that over time, PECA’s new plastic could become a competitive alternative to other forms of plastic other than polystyrene.
“Due to its superior material properties and ease of recycling, PECA could be useful not only for simply replacing polystyrene, but also for further improving the recyclability of plastic waste,” they wrote in their article.
Initial laboratory experiments by Christie and Phillips showed that the new PECA plastic has similar properties to existing plastics and is stable in hot and humid environments.
It is this durability and resistance to degradation that makes plastic so versatile, yet difficult or impossible to break down. And yet they contain the building blocks of new plastic, joined in a neat row if you can find a way to pull them apart. But most plastics are burned or thrown away.
In terms of recycling, Christie and Phillips show how the long polymer chains of PECA plastic can be “split” at temperatures up to 210°C, and the resulting monomers are distilled into a pure product for further use.
Recycling plastic is a truly noble strategy, but consumers need to adopt the appropriate rules. Norway has made great strides in implementing schemes that have recycled 97% of plastic bottles.
Meanwhile, a recent Greenpeace USA report showed that only about 5% of plastic is currently recycled in the US, after China’s recycling industry stopped accepting plastic waste from other countries.
The bulk of this plastic waste can be traced back to several global companies, which has led some experts to argue that these companies are responsible for developing suitable alternatives and reducing the production of single-use plastic to address the root cause of the problem. garbage crisis in the world.
As three scientists wrote in the journal Science in 2017 after analyzing the production, use and fate of all plastics ever made, recycling reduces future plastic waste only if—and only if—it replaces primary plastic production.
The study was published in the journal Science Advances.
Source: Science Alert
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