Industry News

Scientists discover that merging plastics could solve their recyclability issue

by | Dec 14, 2023

A collaboration of scientists from IIT Madras, Columbia University and Colorado State University have begun researching innovative techniques to find a way to recycle plastics. A recent breakthrough has led them to the discovery that if plastics are merged then they could become recyclable.

Whilst normal methods of recycling tend to encounter issues with plastic, due to the incompatibility of various polymers. Through lots of research and experiments the scientists have now discovered a groundbreaking new technique which allows plastics to be recycled. Through merging different kinds of plastics together, the scientists found that this resulted in a strong and recyclable composite material, which is able to be recycled. This is made possible through the use of a specially designed universal dynamic crosslinker (UDC) which successfully blends incompatible plastics, turning them into compatible plastics. This revolutionary technique has the potential to completely change the plastic recycling industry, by making unrecyclable plastic, recyclable, through merging otherwise incompatible polymers, which are the components of plastic.

On top of reducing plastic waste within society in the way mentioned above, this new technique could have the ability to reduce plastic waste further, through altering how the process of plastic recycling is managed. This ability could also have the potential to transform society’s perception of the process, making it a more widely used practice now that it can be used more sustainably and effectively. Through reducing plastic waste in a recycling process, the practical solution highlights an excellent step forward for the issue presented by mixed plastics. This technique is viewed by the scientists as one that could lead the way towards a more sustainable future.

This new technique had a few obstacles to start with, but since overcoming these, the scientists have perfected the technique so that the recycling process can reuse mixed plastic waste over and over again, throughout multiple cycles. The scientists have confirmed that the project holds hope for the future, in which the process will become more efficient, sustainable and contribute to a greener planet, through this new technique which efficiently and effectively reduces plastic waste.

Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at IIT Madras, Tarak Patra, commented, “that although India’s plastic recycling rate exceeds the global average, technical hurdles hinder further progress. The challenge lies in the fact that plastic waste consists of different types of polymers that do not easily mix. For effective plastic recycling, it is crucial to ensure that different plastics can blend together without compromising their individual properties.” Patra also explained that it was through a process called ‘compatibilisation,’ that the researchers achieved their aim of blending the plastics together. This achievement led to the ability of treating all plastics as one unit without the need for segregation.”

Professor of Chemical Engineering at Columbia University, Sanat K Kumar, added, “that waste plastic materials often consist of various kinds of plastic, which tend to be immiscible when reprocessed.” Kumar explained that their “innovative process allows for the stitching of the interface between immiscible phases, resulting in mechanically strong materials that can be recycled and repurposed effectively.”

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