Researchers develop recyclable plastic 2019-06-21T22:12:10+01:00

Creating a more recyclable plastics

Scientists in the US have created what they hope could be the most recyclable type of plastic yet.

The Department of Energy researchers believes that polydiketoenamine – or PDK – will be able to be repeatedly reprocessed into different shapes, textures and colours without any loss of quality.

The key to this is that, unlike with conventional plastics, the molecules which PDK is made of can be easily separated from other chemicals which have been added to them during manufacturing, by dipping the plastic in strong acid.

The research was undertaken at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and published in Nature Chemistry.

The problem with plastic

Plastics are made of polymers – long chains of identical smaller molecules, called monomers. Other chemicals are then often added to give the plastic certain properties, such as plasticisers, which make it flexible, dyes, flame retardants or fillers, which make it tough.

But these chemicals are often so tightly bound to the monomers that they stay in the plastic even after it’s been processed at a recycling plant. During recycling, plastics with different chemical compositions – hard plastics, flexible plastics, clear plastics, coloured plastics – are mixed together and melted down to make new material. But because those added chemicals are still there, and there are now a whole load of different chemicals from different plastics, it’s hard to predict what properties the new plastic will have.

This unpredictability means that only about 20 to 30 per cent of even the most recyclable types of plastic is reused. The rest is incinerated or sent to landfill. For example, plastic bags, straws and many toys aren’t recycled.

Where PDK can help

Humans produce 300 million tons of plastic waste every year.

“Plastic upcycling is a grand challenge, and we’ve seen the impact of plastic waste leaking into our aquatic ecosystems,” explained team leader Brett Helms, a staff scientist at the Molecular Foundry.

With PDK, however, the added chemicals bond to the polymers in a different way from other plastics. “The immutable bonds of conventional plastics are replaced with reversible bonds,” Helms explained. The acid helps to separate the monomers from the added chemicals and from each other, so they can be remade into new polymers without inheriting the colour or other features of the original material.

“That broken black watchband you tossed in the trash could find new life as a computer keyboard if it’s made with PDK,” Helms told ABC News.

The researchers now hope to develop PDK plastics with a range of thermal and mechanical properties for uses including textiles, 3D printing, and foams, and to incorporate plant-based materials and other sustainable components.

If your work involves scientific or technological research, you could be eligible for the government’s research and development tax credit scheme – it’s open to any company looking to make advances in their field. Our r&d tax credits calculator can give you an estimate of the potential value of a claim; for more details, simply contact us at R&D Tax Solutions.

Average R&D tax claim is £56,000

Ask us to review your R&D tax relief claim on your behalf. With our unique fee strcuture you don't pay us a penny until your R&D claim succeeds and provides a benefit to your business!

Start A Claim With Us

Latest News and Insights

See All News and Events

Become a Partner

Working with R&D Tax Solutions enables your service offering to be extended without jeopardising client service or quality. We are the trusted tax partner for a variety of businesses. Our team enables the partnerships to flourish with clear transparency of services provided and benefits obtained. Whether you are a boutique consultancy with a select few clients, or an accounting practice with a wide variety of clients our team will give you the peace of mind that your clients interests are our priority.

Find Out More

Any questions? Talk to our Tax Specialists

0161 298 1010