Plastic waste is a major environmental and social problem. The fact that plastics or polymers hardly decompose naturally is one of the contributing factors to the issue of this type of waste. Though polymers could be recycled only a tiny portion of separately collected plastic waste is actually recycled.
A major obstacle to polymer recycling is the fact that very few plastics are pure polymers. A large amount of plastic contains additives that makes recycling hard or even impossible to process into new plastic. Consequently a substantial amount of polymer waste ends up either in landfills or in waste incineration facilities or in the environment.
Fortunately scientists are working on new types of polymers that will have properties that make plastics easier to recycle. Charles Schroeder and Yuechen Zhou have developed a ring based polymer that theoretically could be decomposed at will and hence enable reprocessing polymers.
Another approach is presented by a team led by Peter Christensen. They developed a plastic called PDK, which has modular structure similar to Lego™ blocks – that could assembled and disassembled. And contrary to conventional plastics, the additives that modify its properties, are contained loosely into the substance and could hence be more easily removed.
Alternatively plastics could be made to be fully biodegradable as we discussed in a previous post. Both recyclable and biodegradable polymers will significantly reduce the impact of our global plastic consumption.