Finding a circular solution for bioplastics

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In the United Kingdom, researchers from the University of Bath and University of Birmingham have developed a way to recycled plant-based plastics.

“Most plastic is currently recycled using mechanical methods, where they are chipped into granules and melted down before being molded into something new,” Professor Matthew Jones from the University of Bath says. “The problem is, melting plastic changes its properties, and reduces the quality, which limits the range of products in which it can be used. Our method of chemical recycling overcomes this problem by breaking down plastic polymers into their chemical building blocks, so they can be used all over again to make virgin plastic without losing any properties.”

By changing temperature and catalyst, the team was able to recycle polylactic acid.

“PLA is being increasingly used as a sustainable alternative for single-use plastics. Whilst it’s biodegradable under industrial conditions, it doesn’t biodegrade with home composting, and isn’t currently recycled, so at the moment it commonly ends up contributing to the tonnes of plastic waste in landfill and oceans,” said Dr. Paul McKeown from the University of Bath.

The group will now work to scale the process, which was described in a recent issue of ChemSusChem