Published On: Wed, Jul 6th, 2011

Round and Round and Round again: Plastics that can Recycle Infinitely

Most plastics are recyclable, but only a fraction are recycled. And most of those are only

recycled one or two times. Worse than that, they tend to be downcycled, meaning they lose much of their embedded energy, engineering, structure and value, and can’t be remade into better products. A computer housing becomes a park bench and then hits the landfill. A PET bottle becomes a fleecy pullover, and then hits the landfill. We need a new story line that fights entropy. In a recent story on Edie, they report that scientists from IBM and Stanford University claim to have made a major breakthrough in the reuse of plastics.

After ‘many years’ of research the IBM – Stanford team believes their breakthrough could lead to a new recycling process that could ‘significantly increase’ recycling and reuse of both common PET and plant-based plastics in the future.

Far too many plastics only live on for one more generation before they are buried in a landfill. With the United States alone disposing of over 63 pounds of plastic packaging per person every year, the need for plastics to be repeatedly recycled is great.

The IBM-Stanford “green chemistry” breakthrough can create a new recycling process that reverses the process of “polymerization” to generate monomers in their original state, reducing waste and pollution by a big factor. It’s basically a way to break the plastic down to its essential building blocks and regenerate it, rather than just chopping it up and remelting it.

The results were published in the American Chemical Society journal Macromolecules. I’m sure it’s right there on your bedside reading stand. According to the IBM and Stanford scientists quoted in the Edie post, this is a ‘fundamental shift in the field’.

“We’re exploring new methods of applying technology and our expertise in materials science to create a sustainable, environmentally sound future,” said Josephine Cheng, IBM fellow and vice president of research.

“The development of new families of organic catalysts brings more versatility to green chemistry and opens the door for novel applications, such as making biodegradable plastics, improving the recycling process and drug delivery.” With 210,000 gallons of oil still gushing out of the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, it’s nice to see technology used to reduce both the demand for more oil and keep materials in use for much longer. This mimics the natural principle of “waste equals food’ and drastically reduces the “environmental footprint” of the materials.

So 3 cheers for the reincarnation of plastics and all other materials. If it’s worth doing it once, it’s worth repeating. And repeating and repeating and repeating….

 

Source : greenopolis.com