Scientists believe they can recycle 100% of all plastic

In the future, it may be possible to recycle all types of plastics around the world. Scientists at the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have discovered a way to assemble plastics and reuse them in new materials of all colors and shapes.

Plastic pollution of the oceans has an economic impact of $2.5 trillion. It affects almost all marine ecosystems as well as areas such as fishing, heritage and recreation.

Acid bath

Most plastics have never been developed to be recyclable,- says Peter Christensen, research director and chemist at Berkeley Lab. -But we have discovered a new way of assembling plastics that accounts for recycling from a molecular point of view.-

Known as polydiketoenamine (PDK), this new type of plastic could help stem the build-up of plastics in factories. PDK bonds can indeed be reversed thanks to an acid bath, say the researchers. Monomers recovered from polydiketoenamines can be re-manufactured in the same form of polymer, without loss of performance. The ease with which KDPs can be manufactured, used, recycled and reused could enable the design of sustainable polymers with minimal environmental impact.

Classic plastic

In other words, unlike conventional plastics, PDK plastic monomers could be recovered and stripped of any compound additive simply by soaking the material in a highly acidic solution.

Plastic is a by-product of oil, consisting of polymers, molecules that are compound carbon compounds known as monomers. Once chemicals are added to plastic for use and consumption, the monomers bind to chemicals, making it difficult for plastics to be processed in recycling plants.

Recycling attempts usually result in decomposition into substances of particularly unpredictable nature. This makes it extremely difficult to use plastic for new applications.

Challenge

-The recycling of plastic is therefore a major challenge,- says Christensen. -We have already seen the impact of plastic waste on our aquatic ecosystems. This trend is likely to be exacerbated by the increasing amounts of plastics manufactured. With the PDK, science can eventually find a solution to this problem, -said the researchers.

The product currently exists only in the laboratory. The availability of KDP on the market could take time. Nevertheless, the researchers expressed their enthusiasm for this discovery and its potential positive impact.

-With PDKs, the unchangeable bonds of conventional plastics are being replaced by reversible bonds that allow plastic to be recycled more efficiently,- the researchers said. -We are interested in chemistry that redirects the life cycles of plastics from a linear to a circular cycle. We see an opportunity to make a difference in the absence of recycling options. –

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