Scientists on the verge of creating 100 percent recyclable plastic

Closed Loop Plastics

So when plastics are ground up and mixed together for recycling, all those additives make the final product unpredictable and lower quality.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have designed a plastic that can be recycled over and over again, and turned into new materials of any color, shape, or form.

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

According to Berkeley National Laboratory, PDK plastic can be "disassembled into its constituent parts at the molecular level" - the lab describes this as being something like the deconstruction of a LEGO project back down into individual blocks.

According to the researchers, the problem with many plastics is that the chemicals added to make them useful - such as fillers that make a plastic tough, or plasticizers that make a plastic flexible - are tightly bound to the monomers and stay in the plastic even after it's been processed at a recycling plant.

We're of course a long way from sending our PDK forks to an acid tank at our local recycling plant.

Best of all, the process can be repeated over and over-without loss of performance or quality.

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. Polymers are composed of shorter strands called monomers. Those items are not recyclable, and at their end of life, they will go to landfill. 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. "We've already seen the impact of plastic waste leaking into our aquatic ecosystems, and this trend is likely to be exacerbated by the increasing amounts of plastics being manufactured and the downstream pressure it places on our municipal recycling infrastructure".

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"We're keen on the science that diverts plastic lifecycles from straight to round", said Helms.

Right now, this plastic only exists in the lab.

Last month, a separate study estimated that the pollution caused by plastics in the world's oceans amounted to a $US2.5 trillion ($A3.6 trillion) problem that every country in the world has to deal with. Most plastics are made of polymers, chains of hydrogen and carbon which are chiefly derived from petroleum products like crude oil.

Some would argue that plastics have played an important role in powering the robust world economy that has thrived since the end of World War II.

"With PDKs, the immutable bonds of conventional plastics are replaced with reversible bonds that allow the plastic to be recycled more effectively."

"We see an opportunity to make a difference for where there are no recycling options", Helms added, advocating for the modernization of recycling facilities.

To the eternal confusion of consumers everywhere, some of those plastics can be broken down into components and recycled relatively easily.

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