The Plastics Recycling Dilemma: ORNL’s Solution to Eradicating Microplastics


There’s been a major breakthrough in the field of plastics recycling that we need to talk about. The issue of microplastics has become a serious and escalating problem, with tiny particles of plastic contaminating the environment globally through wind and water movement. It’s highly likely that every human now has traces of these microplastics in their bodies, and the long-term effects of this are still unknown. This is an alarming situation that demands a solution.

The main reason behind this pollution problem is the lack of an efficient plastic waste recycling technique. Currently, only certain types of plastics can be recycled, and even then, it requires significant technical efforts. The majority of waste plastic is either discarded in landfills or incinerated, both of which release harmful chemicals into the environment. Astonishingly, 79% of plastics end up buried in landfills, while another 12% are incinerated. These statistics reveal the deeply flawed process of plastics recycling.

Adding to the problem is the issue of sorting. Recycling centers often receive a jumble of random plastic objects that can be challenging to identify. Without knowing the exact materials present, it becomes difficult to determine the appropriate recycling process. Furthermore, even when plastic is successfully recycled, it doesn’t revert back to its original quality. The recycled products are of lower value and possess inferior properties. Current recycling processes can only be repeated once or twice before the material degrades.

But here’s where the exciting development comes in. Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory have conducted groundbreaking research that could revolutionize the recycling of plastics. In their paper titled “Selective deconstruction of mixed plastics by a tailored organocatalyst,” the researchers propose a novel approach that is highly efficient and effective for recycling PET, PA, PC, and PU. They have created a new catalyst that facilitates the systematic breakdown of multiple polymers through a unique thermal process.

The catalyst acts on specific materials at specific temperatures. Here’s how it works: a recycling facility would pour a mixture of plastics into a single processing system, adding the catalyst, and then raising the temperature. At +130C, PC material breaks down into basic monomers that can be extracted from the system. Similarly, at +160C, PU material undergoes a similar breakdown. PET reacts at +180C, and PA at +210C. At each temperature, fully recyclable raw materials can be collected from the system.

This recycling system is said to consume 95% less energy than previous methods and produces a higher quantity of usable raw materials. These “zero” materials can then be directly used to create new plastics. Imagine the possibilities of establishing recycling reactors like this in major urban areas, where large quantities of plastic waste can be effectively recycled. This could also mean that even 3D printed plastic objects, like those plastic dragons, can be safely disposed of.

The potential of this discovery is enormous, and it offers hope for combating the microplastics crisis. It’s crucial that we share this news and raise awareness about the importance of plastics recycling. By adopting innovative solutions like this, we can work towards a more sustainable future where plastics are recycled efficiently and reduce their harmful impact on our planet.

Original source


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