Single-use plastic ends up in landfills in quantities exceeding 100 million tons every year. And the small amount of recycled plastic cannot last forever. But a group of polymer material scientists have developed a new method to create and deconstruct polymers. It is believed that with this process, recyclable polymer can solve plastic waste problems, and it would be easy to create more recyclable plastics.
In October 2023, a study was published where the researchers discussed how they created polymers using just two basic building blocks. These polymers imitated polyolefins and could be recycled chemically. By utilizing only two building blocks, it is possible to revolutionize the production of plastics, resulting in an extensive array of properties. This innovation has the potential to significantly streamline the manufacturing process and reduce the need for a multitude of differerent plastics.
Instead of relying on various plastics for flexibility, rigidity, and everything in between, the behavior of plastics can be manipulated easily by adjusting the proportions of these two fundamental building blocks.
By repeatedly joining two distinct polymers until they unite into a singular, elongated molecule, the marvelous creation of a multiblock polymer is accomplished. The team has successfully manipulated the proportions of each polymer variety in the multiblock polymer, resulting in a diverse array of materials encompassing various polyolefin characteristics. However, let it be known that the process of crafting these extraordinary multiblock polymers is no simple feat.
An improved technique was used on small molecules to connect hard and soft polymers. This method is better than traditional step-by-step methods used in the 1920s, which require a precise match of reactive groups on the ends of the molecules.
The new method by polymer scientists simplifies the process by using identical reactive groups. This eliminates the need to match the ends of building blocks when creating polymers. Additionally, they reverse the process by adding hydrogen to disconnect the polymers into their individual building blocks. This makes it easier to separate and reuse them.
As plastic consumption is expected to double by 2050, the challenges and scale of plastic recycling will inevitably rise. This is a crucial factor to consider in the development of new materials and products. Though the scientists are still working on answering important questions about these polymers, they believe this research is a positive step towards creating more environmentally friendly plastics.
By creating plastic-like materials that have the same properties as the plastics used by the world. Now, they want to develop new plastic compositions that were not possible before. While we have witnessed numerous positive actions, it is evident that we must collectively strive to do even better and effectively curb plastic pollution right from its roots.