Next, they proved that the recovered PDK monomers can be remade into polymers, and those recycled polymers can form new plastic materials without inheriting the color or other features of the original material - so that broken black watchband you tossed in the trash could find new life as a computer keyboard if it's made with PDK plastic. "But we have discovered a new way to assemble plastics that takes recycling into consideration from a molecular perspective".
Understanding how the new process works means understanding a little bit about the chemistry of plastic.
That stringy web of molecules can be mixed with a wide variety of chemicals, giving plastics diverse properties that allow us to use them for just about anything from shopping bags to clothing, to straws, and furniture. Plastics are now everywhere, from the bottom of the ocean to remote mountaintops.
After testing various formulations at the Molecular Foundry, they demonstrated that not only does acid break down PDK polymers into monomers, but the process also allows the monomers to be separated from entwined additives.
Many plastics suffer from those additives that cling to the molecular chains to colour, soften, or harden them, making for an unpredictable mess of ingredients to convert into a durable product we can easily afford.
Condensing these units into a long string forms a plastic called poly (diketoenamine) - or PDK - and the bonds can be dissolved easily using nothing more than a 12-hour soak in a strong acid bath.
As it turns out, plastics that should be recycled can't be because of certain chemical qualities that the material has taken on because of additives, reducing the effectiveness of global recycling efforts.
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. But it's not the only polymer that may improve plastics recyclability.
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.
"Circular plastics and plastics upcycling are grand challenges", said Helms.
Right now, most of our recycling efforts are abysmal.
We're of course a long way from sending our PDK forks to an acid tank at our local recycling plant.
Researchers who discovered new recyclable plastic.