Scientists are improving the recyclability of post-consumer plastics – Zoo House News
Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Institute for Cooperative Upcycling of Plastics (iCOUP) have developed a new process for recycling high-density polyethylene (HDPE).
Using a novel catalytic approach, scientists at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory and Cornell University converted post-consumer HDPE plastic into a fully recyclable and potentially biodegradable material with the same mechanical and thermal properties as the original single-use plastic.
HDPE is ubiquitous in single-use applications because it is strong, flexible, durable, and inexpensive. But the way we produce and dispose of HDPE poses a serious threat to our own health and that of our planet.
Many HDPE products are made from fossil fuels and most post-consumer HDPE is either incinerated, sent to landfill or lost to the environment. When recycled using current methods, the quality of the material degrades.
This new approach could reduce the carbon emissions and pollution associated with HDPE by using plastic waste as an unused feedstock and converting it into a new material that can be recycled repeatedly without loss of quality.
Current HDPE recycling approaches result in materials with inferior properties. The team’s alternative approach uses a range of catalysts to cleave the polymer chains into shorter pieces that contain reactive groups at the ends. The smaller parts can then be reassembled into new, equivalent products. The end groups have the additional advantage that the new plastic is more easily degradable, both in the laboratory and in nature.
A paper detailing the findings was published December 16 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
This work was supported by iCOUP, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the DOE Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences at Argonne and Ames Laboratory. This work utilized the Cornell University NMR facility supported by the National Science Foundation.
Materials provided by DOE/Argonne National Laboratory. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.