Tampa (AFP) – US scientists said Thursday they have made progress toward a kind of plastic that can be recycled “infinitely,” and that it appears durable enough to compete with regular plastics.
Unlike plastics made from petroleum products, the new kind can be converted back to its original small-molecule state, and remade into new plastics over and over, said the report in the journal Science.
“The polymers can be chemically recycled and reused, in principle, infinitely,” said lead author Eugene Chen, professor in the Department of Chemistry at Colorado State University.
Chen cautioned that the research has been done in the lab only, and more work is needed to bring it to scale.
However, the team has built on an advance it announced in 2015, which resulted in a fully recyclable plastic that was softer than many would have liked.
Making the old version required extremely cold conditions, and the end product had low heat resistance.
The new product fixes all these issues, researchers said.
An accompanying commentary in Science called the work “an important step” toward addressing the planet’s plastic problem.
Under the new process, “plastic waste is depolymerized back to the starting material and then repolymerized to yield virgin-like plastics,” said the commentary.
This kind of advance “can lead to a world in which plastics at the end of their life are not considered as waste but as raw materials to generate high-value products.”
Currently, only about five percent of plastic is recycled.
Global production of plastic is expected to exceed 500 million metric tons by 2050.
Experts predict that by mid-century, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.