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New polymer could help with recycling plastic

Only 2 per cent of the 70 million tonnes of plastic annually used for packaging is recycled into a similar material. One of the problems with recycling plastic is that the 2 most common kinds of plastic, polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), have different chemical structures and cannot be repurposed together. However, researchers at the University of Cornell and the University of Minnesota (US) have developed a multiblock polymer that, when added to PE and PP, can fuse them together, creating a mechanically tough polymer.

Nearly a third ends of the plastic annually used for packaging up in the environment, 14 per cent is used in incineration and/or energy recovering, and the rest ends up on the landfill. PP and PE together make up two thirds of the world’s plastics, so a polymer that binds them together – eliminating the need to separate them before recycling – could save a lot of time and energy.

By adding a small amount of the new polymer to alternating PE and PP segments, the resulting material is stronger than other polymers. The researchers can add as little as 1 per cent while still getting a plastic alloy with great properties.

Not only does hold the polymer great promise for recycling, because it creates superior material, it could also help lessen the amount of plastic used, while still having mechanically better products. Using less plastic for a product means less oil and less to recycle. You can watch a video about the material here.

Photos: University of Cornell and Minnesota