Plastics Will One Day Be 100% Recyclable
Mass production of plastics has increased so rapidly that more than 8.3 billion metric tons have been created in the last six decades. Much of it comes in the form of hard-to-recycle products that accumulate in landfills, are incinerated, or discarded in natural environments.
Light yet durable, plastic is great – until it’s no longer needed. Because plastics contain numerous additives like dyes, fillers, or flame-retardants, very few plastic products are recycled without loss in performance or aesthetics.
All that may soon change, however. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have designed a recyclable plastic that can be disassembled into its constituent parts at the molecular level. Those molecules can then be reassembled into a different shape, texture, and color again and again without performance or quality losses.
Known as poly(diketoenamine), or PDK, this new type of plastic material could help reduce or eliminate unwanted plastic accumulation. The bonds that PDK forms can be reversed by acid bath, the researchers write.
Single Monomer Recycling
Humans have been making plastics since the early 1900s. The first synthetic plastics were developed from cellulose, a substance found in plants and trees. Scientists merged cellulose with various chemicals, which created new, durable materials.
Today, plastics are chains of molecules linked together called polymers. These chains often are composed of carbon and hydrogen. They also can include oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, chlorine, fluorine, phosphorus, or silicon. While these minerals occur naturally in the world, long chains of them do not.
Many plastics also contain synthetics and toxins that collect other toxins in the environment. For these reasons, conventional plastics take hundreds of years to biodegrade. Examples of common plastic we use every day include:
- Polyethylene, or HDPE, MDPE, LDPE and PET
- Polyvinyl Chloride, or PVC
- Polypropylene, or PP
Conventional plastics break down into smaller plastics, which worsens their environmental effect. Only a fraction of these plastics is recycled, which is due to myriad factors such as sorting, cost, and feasibility.
Unlike conventional plastics, however, the monomers of PDK could be recovered and freed from any compounded additives by dunking the material in a highly acidic solution. The acid breaks the bonds between monomers and detaches them from the chemical additives that give plastic its traditional look and feel.
Preferred Plastics is an industry-leading custom plastics extruder offering turnkey extrusion and finishing services, and we are optimistic about the future use of PDK. Benefits of PDK plastics include:
- Better for the environment
- Reduces waste
- Lower plastic waste in natural environments better protects wildlife
PDK is expected to be developed with a range of thermal and mechanical properties, making it ideal for use in a variety of applications. Here are some examples:
- 3D printing
Additionally, the scientists developing PDK write that formulations could be expanded by incorporating plant-based materials and other sustainable sources.
Preferred Plastics loves both plastics and our planet. We are excited about the development and implementation of PDK, and our team looks forward to someday manufacturing products from it.
For more information about plastics and our services, give us a call at 269-685-5873.