This New Plastic Can Be Endlessly Recycled

Marilyn Chung  Berkeley Lab
Researchers who discovered new recyclable plastic

Marilyn Chung Berkeley Lab Researchers who discovered new recyclable plastic

Unfortunately, those upsides are also bad news for the environment, as plastic waste continues to pile up despite recycling efforts and public awareness campaigns. Plastic pollution also threatens marine life and systems people depend on for food and livelihood.

But now researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab have reported that they've developed a type of plastic, called PDK, that can be recycled over and over again, thus solving the problem of plastics that cannot be easily recycled. Scientists at Berkeley Lab say they've found a new way to create plastics that are 100% recyclable, meaning they can be used, recycled, and re-used without losing value, Fox News reports.

"Most plastics were never made to be recycled", said lead author Peter Christensen, a postdoctoral researcher at Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry, in a statement. "Recovered monomers can be re-manufactured into the same polymer formulation, without loss of performance, as well as other polymer formulations with differentiated properties".

However, PDK could hold the potential to change the way plastic recycling works.

When plastics are processed at such plants, they are all thrown into the mix together, regardless of their chemical compositions, making it hard to predict which properties will feature in the new material that they were melted together to form.

Around 700,000 plastic bottles a day end up as litter.

Next, they demonstrated that the recuperated PDK monomers can be changed into polymers, and those reused polymers can shape new plastic materials without acquiring the shading or different highlights of the first material - so broken dark watchband you hurled in the garbage could discover new life as a PC console if it's made with PDK plastic. As a result, most plastics can not be recycled entirely - there's always some degree of loss, whether in how the plastic looks or how well it performs. According to the latest publicly available data, only 9.1 per cent of the plastic created in the 2015 was recycled, down from 9.5 per cent in 2014, according to the EPA in the US.

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A 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.

We're of course a long way from sending our PDK forks to an acid tank at our local recycling plant.

"Here, we show that next-generation plastics - polymerized using dynamic covalent diketoenamine bonds - allow the recovery of monomers from common additives, even in mixed waste streams". But if it ever does, so much plastic could be saved from landfills and oceans.

"With PDKs, the immutable bonds of conventional plastics are replaced with reversible bonds that allow the plastic to be recycled more effectively", Mr Helms added.

"We're interested in the chemistry that redirects plastic lifecycles from linear to circular", says Helms. "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". This means that when it comes time to recycle the plastic, the monomers and the additives are chemically separated using an acidic solution, leaving the monomers free to bond with different additives to make different kinds of plastics.

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The researchers now hope to develop various PDK-based plastics for things like foams, textiles and other applications.

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