New Recycling Process Could Recycle 100% of Plastic Packaging


Photo via University of Warwick

One of the most disappointing aspects of Christmas (besides the crazed consumerism) is the piles of plastic packaging left over after the morning commotion. In fact, Science Daily reports that each American consumes an average of 120 grams of plastic wrapping on Christmas gifts, most of which is not recyclable. But that might just change (the recycling part, not the wasteful plastic packaging) thanks to a new technique for processing practically any type of plastic. Now that is some Christmas wish come true... According to Science Daily, researchers at the University of Warwick have figured out a way to deal with the plastic packaging that so far can't go in the recycling bin. Where normally only about 12% of plastic waste is really recycled (though that number might actually be higher, at least in the US; for example, plastic bottle recycling hovers at around 25%, and recycling businesses have tripled in the US in recent years), the new process could deal with 100% of plastics.

University of Warwick reports, "The Warwick researchers have devised a unit which uses pyrolysis (using heat in the absence of oxygen to decompose of materials) in a "fluidised bed" reactor. Tests completed in the last week have shown that the researchers have been able to literally shovel in to such a reactor a wide range of mixed plastics which can then be reduced down to useful products many of which can then be retrieved by simple distillation."

So far, the process can reclaim wax, original monomers, terephthalic acid used to make PET plastic products, methylmetacrylate for making acrylic sheets, carbon for making paint pigments and tires, and even char.

If the simple process proves to be this useful, it could mean far more effective, cheaper and profitable recycling in cities. Right now the researchers are working on scaling up the process for large-scale reactor units that can be used by cities. Lead researcher Jan Baeyens says that the team envisions a large-scale plant capable of dealing with 10,000 tons of plastic a year being able to generate £5 million ($7.8 million) worth of recycled chemicals.

Dealing with a variety of plastics types all in one recycling plant seems too good to be true. If the technology does pan out, however, it could be more like a miracle for recyclers, landfills, the environment, and everyone having to put plastic in their trash bin rather than their recycling bin.

You can watch a video about the process at University of Warwick's website.

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Tags: Concepts & Prototypes | Plastics

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