Nav: Home

Chemical recycling makes useful product from waste bioplastic

May 20, 2020

A faster, more efficient way of recycling plant-based "bioplastics" has been developed by a team of scientists at the Universities of Birmingham and Bath.

The team has shown how their chemical recycling method not only speeds up the process, it can also be converted into a new product - a biodegradable solvent - which can be sold for use in a wide variety of industries including cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

Bioplastics, made from polylactic acid (PLA), are becoming increasingly common in products such as disposable cups, packaging materials and even children's toys. Typically, once they reach the end of their useful life, they are disposed of in landfill or composted, biodegrading over periods of up to several months.

In a new study, researchers have shown that a chemical process, using a zinc-based catalyst developed at the University of Bath and methanol, can be used to break down real consumer plastics and produce the green solvent, called methyl lactate. Their results are published in the journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

The team tested their method on three separate PLA products- a disposable cup, some 3D printer waste, and a children's toy. They found the cup was most easily converted to methyl lactate at lower temperatures, but even the bulkier plastic in the children's toy could be converted using higher temperatures. "We were excited to see that it was possible to obtain high quantities of the green solvent regardless of samples' characteristics due to colorants, additives, sizes and even molecular weight.", said lead author Luis Román-Ramírez of the University of Birmingham's School of Chemical Engineering.

Lead researcher Professor Joe Wood, at the University of Birmingham, says: "The process we've designed has real potential to contribute to ongoing efforts to reduce the amount of plastic going into landfill or being incinerated creating new valuable products from waste.

"Our technique breaks down the plastics into their chemical building blocks before 'rebuilding' them into a new product, so we can guarantee that the new product is of sufficiently high quality for use in other products and processes."

The chemical process has been tried up to 300 ml, so next steps would include scaling up the reactor further before it can be used in an industrial setting. The research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
-end-
Notes to editor:

* The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world's top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.

* Román-Ramírez et al. (2020). 'Chemical Degradation of end-of-life Poly(lactic acid) into Methyl Lactate by a Zn(II) Complex'. Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

University of Birmingham

Related Plastic Articles:

Plastic-eating enzyme 'cocktail' heralds new hope for plastic waste
The UK-US team who re-engineered the plastic-eating enzyme PETase have now created an enzyme 'cocktail' which can digest plastic up to six times faster.
Scientists sound alarm on plastic pollution
A new study shows that despite global commitments to address plastic pollution, growth in plastic waste, or 'plastics emissions' continues to outpace reduction.
Ecologists sound alarm on plastic pollution
Research led by ecologists at the University of Toronto examining plastic pollution entering oceans, rivers and lakes around the world annually, outlines potential impacts of various mitigation strategies over the coming decade.
The persistence of plastic
The amount of synthetic microfiber we shed into our waterways has been of great concern over the last few years, and for good reason: Every laundry cycle releases in its wastewater tens of thousands of tiny, near-invisible plastic fibers whose persistence and accumulation can affect aquatic habitats and food systems, and ultimately our own bodies in ways we have yet to discover.
There is at least 10 times more plastic in the Atlantic than previously thought
Scientists measured 12-21 million tonnes of three of the most common types of plastic in the top 200 metres of the Atlantic.
Seafood study finds plastic in all samples
A study of five different seafoods has found traces of plastic in every sample tested.
A world drowning in plastic pollution
Almost one billion tonnes of plastic will be dumped on land and in the oceans over the period from 2016 to 2040 unless the world acts, say a team of 17 global experts who have developed a computer model to track the stocks and flows of plastic around the world.
A radar for plastic: High-resolution map of 1 kilometre grids to track plastic emissions in seas
Plastic waste often ends up in river bodies and oceans, posing a serious threat to the marine ecosystem.
Sustainable structural material for plastic substitute
A team lead by Prof. Shu-Hong Yu from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) report a high-performance sustainable structural material called cellulose nanofiber plate (CNFP) which is constructed from bio-based CNF and ready to replace the plastic in many fields.
Plastic pollution reaching the Antarctic
Food wrapping, fishing gear and plastic waste continue to reach the Antarctic.
More Plastic News and Plastic Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.