Scientists Say They've Cooked Up an Endlessly Recyclable Plastic

Reversible Plastic Developed That Can Be Repeatedly Recycled

"Most plastics were never made to be recycled", says lead author Peter Christensen, a postdoctoral researcher at Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have designed a truly recyclable plastic.

Next, they demonstrated that the recuperated PDK monomers can be changed into polymers, and those reused polymers can shape new plastic materials without acquiring the shading or different highlights of the first material - so broken dark watchband you hurled in the garbage could discover new life as a PC console if it's made with PDK plastic. According to an announcement from the lab, the new material is called poly (diketoenamine), aka PDK, and it can be broken down at the molecular level for reassembly into new things. However, the new technique they developed could potentially solve this problem.

Recycling reusable materials is a key effort in reducing resource consumption and waste, but now available materials make that hard. The primary concern for the research team was finding a way to separate the polymers of the plastic from the various additives which are so often used to give the finished product specific qualities.

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All that being said, why exactly is there a need for plastic and its recycling process to be revamped? To create items such as water bottles, bags, multi-colored straws, and stretchy foodservice wrap, manufacturers add various chemicals and fillers to give plastics desired qualities-which makes recycling different plastics together hard as the end result is unpredictable and/or undesirable. Compounding the issue is that not all plastic is recyclable.

"We're interested in the chemistry that redirects plastic lifecycles from linear to circular", says Helms. "Recovered monomers can be re-manufactured into the same polymer formulation, without loss of performance, as well as other polymer formulations with differentiated properties". Plastic pollution also threatens marine life and systems people depend on for food and livelihood.

Though PDK only exists in the lab now (meaning products won't be available for purchase for some time), the researchers are nonetheless excited by what they've discovered and the potential positive impact it could have. "With PDKs, the changeless obligations of ordinary plastics are supplanted with reversible bonds that enable the plastic to be reused all the more adequately", Helms said.

The end result is a plastic ingredient that can shake off any colours or strengthening agents in several easy steps to be turned back into another product. "We're at a critical point where we need to think about the infrastructure needed to modernize recycling facilities for future waste sorting and processing", lead researcher Brett Helms said.

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Plastic recycling figures are trending down, making breakthroughs in recyclable plastic all the more important.

The new material, called poly (diketoenamine), or PDK, was reported in the journal Nature Chemistry.

While many polymers are thermoplastic, meaning they can be melted down and reused, the additives bonded to them can make recycling them hard.

That study was based off a 2015 investigation that estimated there were between 4.8 trillion and 12.7 trillion pieces of plastic entering the ocean every year.

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