Scientists Develop New Way to Tackle Plastic Recycling Plague
Plastic is the bubonic plague of environmentalists. Its use has spread as quickly as the plague and it has left behind literal mountains of plastic bags, bottles, cell phone housings, and other plastic detritus that will take hundreds of years to degrade. Plastic is deadly to the animals that strangle on it, and to the sea creatures that swallow it. It is a recycling nightmare because of the expense. One big problem is that not all plastic polymers require the same recycling process.
One possible solution to recycling and the plastic plague is to melt an assortment of plastics to 700°C. The extreme temperature causes the pressure to increase to 34 atmospheres, at which point the hydrogen-carbon bonds in the polymer chain begin to break down. When the hydrogen gas is removed, micro-spheres of carbon are left behind. Called carbon black, these micro-spheres can then be part of a new recycling process when used in a variety of useful ways. Carbon black is a common paint colorant, and can also be used as a lubricant, in tires, as well as an ingredient to increase the efficiency of lithium-ion battery anodes.
This relatively cost-effective process was developed at Illinois’ Argonne National Laboratory. It holds promise as a viable means of flattening those plastic waste mountains and slaying the recycling dragon.