02 May Researchers Develop New Polymer to Bring Plastics Closer to Circularity
The threat that plastic packaging poses on the environment cannot be understated. One of the main issues with plastic packaging is the composition of the primary plastics we utilize: polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) cannot be repurposed, or recycled, when used together. Only 2 percent of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging discarded each year is actually recycled, in large part because of the compositional obstacles.
However, a team of researchers from the University of Minnesota, led by Geoffrey Coates, professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Tisch University, may have discovered a tangible solution that can fundamentally increase the ease of plastic recyclability and bring the plastic industry closer to circularity. The team has developed a multiblock polymer that creates a tough and durable plastic, mechanically superior to diblock polymers. The polymer works as an additive, and by adding it to a mixture with PE and PP present, a new polymer is formed that outperforms most plastics. By creating a new compound that is able to repurpose PE and PP together, this new polymer can revolutionize the recycling process for plastics.
The team tested their new polymer against diblock (or two-block) polymers to verify its strength. First, two strips of plastic were welded together with a variety of polymers as adhesives, including the new multiblock polymer Coates and his team created. When the welds created by the diblock polymers were tested, they pulled apart in little time. But the new multiblock polymer was so strong that the plastic strips broke during the test instead of the weld itself.
“People have done things like this before,” Coates noted, “but they’ll typically put 10 percent of a soft material, so you don’t get the nice plastic properties, you get something that’s not quite as good as the original material.” As Coates’ polymer advances beyond the testing phase, hopefully it can benefit the circular economy and drastically reduce plastic waste. In the meantime, by partnering with Good360 you can help out nonprofits in need while reducing your amount of waste and becoming more sustainable as an organization. Learn more here.