Recycling Plastics Reaches New Milestone in Japan

The Japanese have often been leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of us in finding innovative ways to reduce their energy consumption while boosting their use of renewable energy for everyday life. Having already helped popularize the "furoshiki" as an elegant and sustainable alternative to plastic, it comes as no surprise that they're at it again, this time developing a groundbreaking new process for recycling plastics.

A group of scientists have developed a process by which certain types of plastics can be broken down into their original chemical elements and then reused to make a new brand of high quality plastic. While most recycling methods rely on an approach that consists of melting and reforming plastic into a new, less pure type of plastic, the technique developed by Akio Kamimura and Shigehiro Yamamoto completely depolymerizes, or breaks down, the individual chains of molecules that make up polyamide plastics.The scientists used an ionic liquid to change nylon-6 into captrolactam, its base component, that could then be reused over and over to synthesize new plastics.

"This is the first example of the use of ionic liquids for effective depolymerization of polymeric materials and will open a new field in ionic liquid chemistry as well as plastic recycling," said Kamimura and Yamamoto.

In addition to providing a more effective way to recycle plastics, their method is also much simpler to implement on a large scale since it eschews costly pressure chambers and wasteful energy inputs in favor of typical laboratory glassware. While this won't help us move towards a plastic-free future, it will at least eliminate a lot of the waste and energy consumption incurred through our current practices, which, in our minds, is a welcome development in itself.

Via ::ScienceDaily: Welcome To A New Era In Recycling Of Plastics (news website)

See also: ::Japan's Wrap Attack: Reduce Waste With the 'Mottainai' Furoshiki, ::Japan Needs Three Times Less Energy than US for Same Economic Output, ::Plastic Heal Thyself: Materials Mimic Vascular Networks

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