Scientists improve recyclability of post-consumer plastic

This study on the proposed chemical recycling of waste polyolefins and the conversion of post-consumer waste polyethylene into chemically recyclable materials. Credit: Journal of the American Chemical Society (2022). DOI: 10.1021/jacs.2c11949

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Plastics Cooperative Upcycling Institute (iCOUP) have developed a new method for recycling high-density polyethylene (HDPE).

Using a new catalytic approach, scientists at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory and Cornell University have transformed post-consumer HDPE plastic into a fully recyclable and potentially biodegradable material with the same mechanical and thermal properties of the initial single-use plastic. Their article describing the results will be published on December 16. Journal of the American Chemical Society.

HDPE is ubiquitous in disposable applications because it is strong, flexible, long-lasting and inexpensive. But the way we produce and dispose of HDPE poses serious threats to both our own health and the health of the planet.

Many HDPE products are made from fossil fuels, and most post-consumer HDPE is either incinerated, landfilled or lost in the environment. The quality of the material degrades when recycled using existing methods.

This new approach can reduce the carbon emission and pollution associated with HDPE by using waste plastic as a unused raw material and transforming it into a new material that can be recycled repeatedly without loss of quality.

Current HDPE recycling approaches yield materials with lower properties. The team’s alternative approach uses a series of catalysts to break polymer chains into shorter segments containing reactive groups at their ends. Smaller pieces can then be reassembled to create new products of equal value. The latter groups have the advantage of allowing the new plastic to decompose more easily, both in the laboratory and in nature.

More information:
Alejandra Arroyave et al, Catalytic Chemical Recycling of Post-Consumer Polyethylene, Journal of the American Chemical Society (2022). DOI: 10.1021/jacs.2c11949

Provided by Argonne National Laboratory

Quotation: Scientists improve recyclability of post-consumer plastic (2022, 22 Dec) retrieved from Dec 22, 2022

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