Innovation Reported in Science for Recycling Plastics

Why is only 2% of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced every year recycled? 

Well, it comes down to the composition of plastics.  Two thirds of plastics worldwide are either polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP).  These plastics must be intensively sorted becuase they can not be melded for practical re-use.  Or so it was thought..  

Cornell University Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology Geoffrey Coates,  his team, and their University of Minnesota collaborators, have reported a new plastic polymerization method in Science Magazine that makes melded PE and PP recycling work.  See: Combining polyethylene and polypropylene: Enhanced performance with PE/iPP multiblock polymers (2017) Science

Their innovative additive is a two for one in sustainable plastic. The PE and PP melded plastic is mechanically tougher yet still flexible.  This enhanced functionality lessens the amount of plastic initially required in manufacturing.  At the end of life, the polyethylene and polypropylene will not need to be sortedfor recycling.  This will make recycling easier and less costly.

VIDEO: Geoffrey Coates, the Tisch University Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, discusses an exciting new multiblock polymer that, when added to polyethylene and polypropylene in small measure, creates a new, stronger material out of two otherwise incompatible plastics. Credit: Cornell University Communications

Dr. Coates is co-founder of Boston based  Novomer, which uses Cornell-developed catalyst technologies to produce high-performance, cost-effective and environmentally responsible polymers and chemicals.  The Novomer web site states that they produce "cost competitive bio-based polymers".   The technology must be successful because Novomer is helping Ford to produce sustainable foams and plastics - a first for automakers.

Keeping an eye on this!  Keep recycling in your laboratories, #labconscious folks!


 The Novomer vision of sustainable plastic recycling and manufacturing.

The Novomer vision of sustainable plastic recycling and manufacturing.