Chemists from Colorado State University seem to have achieved what was not possible according to a number of different journals and textbooks. What have they accomplished, you ask? Well, they have managed to create an entirely recyclable and biodegradable polymer. This, in turn, has paved the way for the possibility of plastics that are free of petroleum, hence ultimately sustainable.
The man behind the plan is named Eugene Chen, who is a Chemistry professor and a proud winner of the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award. Chen as well as a postdoctoral fellow named Miao Hong claim that when polyester is reheated for a complete hour, it returns to its initial state as a molecule. This can then be considered a recyclable product in all manner. Interestingly, the duo started testing on biorenewable monomers that were ruled out as non-polymerizable by most textbooks.
Chen focused all his efforts on creating degradable and renewable plastics that could take the place of conventional materials based on petroleum. The reason for targeting plastics such as polystyrene and polyethylene is that they are considered to be the biggest contributors of landfills.
Chen quoted some impressive figures in this regard: “More than 200 pounds of synthetic polymers are consumed per person each year – plastics probably the most regarding production volume. And most of these polymers are not bio-renewable.” He further mentioned: “The big drive now is to produce bio-renewable and biodegradable polymers or plastics. That is, however, only one part of the solution, as biodegradable polymers are not necessarily recyclable, concerning feedstock recycling.”
Polylactic acid is one of the chief biodegradable plastics readily available these days. It is found in most compostable cups, packaging and cutlery. Despite being biodegradable, they are not fully recyclable. Converting useful materials into the same molecules they once were by heating them was unknown to many until Chen decided to give it a go.
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