Sci­en­tists in search of plas­tics break­through

Western Daily Press - - News -

DIF­FER­ENT plas­tics could soon be thrown in the same re­cy­cling bin with­out need­ing to be separated, West sci­en­tists say.

Plas­tic milk bot­tles are made from high den­sity poly­eth­yl­ene (HDPE) whereas mar­garine tubs are made from polypropy­lene.

Th­ese two plas­tics can­not cur­rently be re­cy­cled to­gether so have to be separated by house­holds or at the re­cy­cling cen­tre.

This process can mean that plas­tic ends up in land­fill be­cause the batch be­comes ac­ci­den­tally con­tam­i­nated with sev­eral types of the ma­te­rial.

Sci­en­tists and en­gi­neers at the Univer­sity of Bath’s Cen­tre for Sus­tain­able Chem­i­cal Tech­nolo­gies and Manch­ester Univer­sity are in­ves­ti­gat­ing ways of chem­i­cally break­ing down mix­tures of plas­tic into their con­stituent mol­e­cules.

Th­ese can then be used to man­u­fac­ture new plas­tics or other high-value prod­ucts.

Pro­fes­sor Matthew David­son, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Sus­tain­able Chem- ical Tech­nolo­gies at Bath, said: “Cur­rently only about one third of plas­tic food pack­ag­ing in the UK is re­cy­cled.

“The UK Govern­ment aims to in­crease that to 75 per cent by 2035.

“Part of this prob­lem is that plas­tics have to be separated into dif­fer­ent types as each type has dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties and they can’t be re­cy­cled to­gether.

“Our col­leagues in Manch­ester have al­ready demon­strated a process to re­cover the chem­i­cal value from waste plas­tics and, to­gether, we aim to de­velop this fur­ther in order to de­velop new tech­nol­ogy for mixed plas­tics waste.

“This means in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture peo­ple will be able to throw all their plas­tics in the same re­cy­cling bin with­out wor­ry­ing about sep­a­rat­ing them.

“This could make a big dif­fer­ence to re­cy­cling rates and help us solve the ur­gent prob­lem of plas­tic waste.”

This project is one of seven be­ing tack­led by a con­sor­tium of UK uni­ver­si­ties and in­dus­trial part­ners, led by the Univer­sity of Bath.

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