A group of German chemists have developed a sustainable plastic alternative that allows it to be chemically recycled 10 times more efficiently than normal plastic. Derived from plant oils, this is a more environmentally friendly option when compared to the conventional fossil fuel-based plastic that has polluted Earth so much for decades.
Nowadays, recycling is mostly done by sorting and slicing plastic into pellets that are used to create new materials at a temperature of at least 600 degrees Celsius, and is chemically recycled at a rate lower than 10%. With these plant-based plastics, the long polymer chains of plastic are broken down with heat or solvents to get the material back to its initial components in a more efficient manner. For example, they require a temperature of 120 to 150 degrees Celsius and retain a 96% of the initial material.
These plant-based plastics come in an appropriate time, as landfills and warehouses struggle to keep up the never-ending increase of disposed plastic waste. Chemical recycling will play a significant role in a circular economy by reducing plastic waste and repurposing it into new products.
The new plant-based plastics are very similar to high-density polyethylene, which is mostly known for its recycling number 2, and is better suited for 3D printing as it retains its properties even after the recycling process after reusing it. They also biodegrade in nature more quickly than common plastic types.
Hopefully in the not-so-far-away future we can all gain access to these plant-based plastic solutions.