Re-forming Plastic Waste

Teresa Madaleno

Plastic waste is one of the biggest environmental challenges of our time; however, a group of researchers in Sweden believe they have developed a way to turn used plastics into plastics of virgin quality.

According to Science Daily, the team from Chalmers University of Technology experimented with chemical recovery by way of steam cracking plastic. What they came up with was an efficient way to transform used plastics into virgin plastics. The trick was determining just the right temperature.

It turns out that at 850 degrees Celsius, and the right heating time, they are able to turn 200 kg of plastic waste an hour into a useful gas. It can then be recycled at the molecular level to become new plastic materials.

In most areas of the world the status quo is recycling plastics, which means repeatedly degrading it to a lower and lower quality and then burning it for energy recovery. Instead, the Swedish researchers say they can capture the carbon atoms from plastic waste and create new original quality. They say it’s “creating real circularity.”

The researcher’s process is said to apply to all types of plastic, including those that tend to end up in landfills and waterways.

Further experiments are needed to determine how to scale up the process, but the researchers are hopeful that one day such a system could be built into existing petrochemical plants.