And Now…A Plastic that Can Be Recycled Endlessly
The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California claims to have discovered a material with properties that allow it to be recycled endlessly into shapes and colors of any type.
America recycles around 10% of the plastic that it uses. One reason for this is that many types of plastics cannot be recycled effectively and hence end up in landfills or are burnt. Even polyethylene terephthalate, which is the most recyclable plastic is recycled only up to 30%. Plastics are essentially polymers, made of monomers. Monomers contain carbon that does not decompose easily. Moreover, chemicals added to plastic for imparting specific properties, such as flexibility or color, stick to the monomers and persist even after recycling.
When plastics with different properties are recycled together, there’s no saying what kind of properties the resulting plastic will inherit. Wil it be clear, opaque, hard, rigid, or flexible?
The team at Berkeley has created a plastic that can be broken down into its constituent parts and then recreated into the desired shape with the texture and color properties that you want. This can be done again and again. The new wonder plastic is called polydiketoenamine, or PDK.
With PDK, recycling now acquires a molecular perspective. Plastic disposal and recycling is stressing the ecosystem, affecting land, water, and air. Recycling is not easy and it’s not a very cost-effective idea. Municipalities are struggling with the pressures of absorbing ever increasing loads of plastic waste coming their way for recycling.
Polymers developed using PDK can ease the pressure on our oceans and landfills because the monomers that go into the making of these polymers are bonded using reversible bonds that dissolve away in an acidic solution. The solution also frees the monomers from the additives and yields pure plastic.
The discovery heralds a change from linear lifecycles of plastic to circular ones where endless recycling is possible.
With respect to recycling, experts feel that the industry today is stagnating with respect to technological advances. It is becoming increasingly difficult to recycle hard plastic materials used for shoes, mobile cases, tiffins, pencil cases, etc. With PDK, we can hope to create recycling facilities with the right infrastructure for successfully diverting plastics from landfills. In future, we will be able to see PDK plastics with varying thermal and mechanical attributes and used for different applications. PDK will find use in textiles, cables, 3D printing and much more. The addition of plant-based materials to the mix will add to the sustainability of the product.