'Breakthrough' find in plastic crisis


Unfortunately, those upsides are also awful news for the environment, as plastic waste continues to pile up despite recycling efforts and public awareness campaigns. "We've already seen the impact of plastic waste leaking into our aquatic ecosystems, and this trend is likely to be exacerbated by the increasing amounts of plastics being manufactured and the downstream pressure it places on our municipal recycling infrastructure".

Prior to the discovery, the unpredictability of the properties had made it almost impossible to perform what has been coined "the Holy Grail of recycling", a "circular" material that can be used over and over again for any number of products, including adhesives, phone cases, computer cables and more.

Researchers at the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have designed a new kind of plastic polymer that can be broken down and built up again with the simplicity of a molecular Lego brick.

Researchers have made some headway on redesigning thermoset plastics to become recyclable, but to really solve our growing plastics crisis we need to make the process as efficient and simple as possible, and the new type of plastic developed at the Berkeley Lab has the potential to meet such demands.

All plastics, from water bottles to automobile parts, are made up of large molecules called polymers, which are composed of repeating units of shorter carbon-containing compounds called monomers.

During processing at such plants, plastics with different chemical compositions - hard plastics, stretchy plastics, clear plastics, candy-colored plastics - are mixed together and ground into bits.

The end result is a plastic ingredient that can shake off any colours or strengthening agents in several easy steps to be turned back into another product. But a novel discovery gives hope, and can revolutionize the model we take care of plastic.

Best of all, the process can be repeated over and over-without loss of performance or quality.

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There are many hurdles that make recycling plastics hard. Their report on PDKs has been published recently in the journal Nature Chemistry.

The chemical building blocks - monomers - of PDK plastic could be recovered and freed from any compounded additives simply by dunking the material in a highly acidic solution. "Shockingly, they were the first monomers", Helms said. But if it ever does, so much plastic could be saved from landfills and oceans.

Plastic manufacturers use different chemicals to boost the properties of the plastics they produced.

'Circular plastics and plastics upcycling are grand challenges, ' said Berkeley scientist Brett Helms, who led the research.

"If these products and companies had been created to recycle or upcycle PDK and linked plastics, then we could presumably be ready to extra effectively divert plastic from landfills and the oceans", Helms talked about.

The team were able to develop a type of plastic material, called polydiketoenamine, or PDK which when dipped in an acid bath, left behind its original monomers. "If these facilities were created to recycle or upcycle PDK and related plastics, then we would be able to more effectively divert plastic from landfills and the oceans".

Researchers affirm the following notion is to create PDK plastics to use in textiles, 3D printing and foams.