Researchers develop new method for hard-to-recycle stubborn plastic, technique limits carbon emissions too

Industry Insights

Every year millions of tons of plastic run in landfills, which is a big societal problems and even a larger threat to the environment. For example, in the U.S., less than 9% plastic is recycled and more than 75% plastic runs into landfills. In fact, 16% is burned – a process that discharges toxic gases into the atmosphere.

In a new development, researchers at the Center for Plastics Innovation, University of Delaware have developed a direct method to make single-use plastic waste to be reusable. This includes plastic bags, plastic bottles, bottle caps, yogurt containers, and more to convert into ready-to-use molecules for diesel, lubricants, and jet fuels.

The work is published in a paper in the April 21 edition of Science Advances. Elaborately, on the process, it focuses on using a new catalyst and unique procedure to quickly disintegrate into hardest-to-recycle plastics known as polyolefins. Importantly, today, polyolefins account for nearly 60 -70% plastic that is manufactured.

Meanwhile, the process developed by researchers at the University of Delaware requires almost 50% less energy than other technologies. Furthermore, the technology does not involve releasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which directly translates into limiting emission over other commonly used methods.

The technique requires only a couple of hours at low temperatures around 250 degree Celsius. This temperature is slightly higher than a temperature of 450-degree Fahrenheit required in the oven to roast vegetables or bake puff pastry at home.

In fact, what is important is the new method can treat a variety of plastics. Interestingly, these plastics can be treated even when they are mixed together – a big advantage is considering the way recyclables are managed.

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