Chemistry could help recycle more plastics
Plastic is one of the most versatile materials we owe to chemistry, and when it appeared, too, stop elephant hunting at least temporarily.
Ivory from elephant tusks has long been revered as a material for making all sorts of things: the problem is that to get it you have to kill elephants.
Billiard balls are usually made in ivory. But at the end of the nineteenth century, it began to become scarce, as overhunting reduced elephant populations.
So manufacturers of pool balls began to search for a material to replace ivory.
This is where chemistry came into play and designed the first synthetic polymer – while the first wasn’t very helpful in making pool balls, it paved the way for the era of plastics.
The world of plastic
Just over a century later, We live in a plastic worldFurniture, cars, electronic appliances, food containers, and parts made from or entirely of plastic.
We are surrounded by plastic in more ways than one: Many of them end up in the trash, and some are faster than others.
Which is that when used in disposable food containers, water bottles and bags, we have created a huge garbage problem that comes from single-use plastics.
These plastics end up in landfills, of course, but also in the sea, and even in the air, like microplastics.
For a few years, this situation has been alerted and in an effort to avoid a greater impact on the environment, we are being asked to implement it Rule 3RReducing reuse and recycling.
It is impossible to recycle
Undoubtedly Rule 3RIt makes perfect sense: reducing our plastic consumption generates less waste, which also happens if we use as many times as many plastics as possible.
Recycling also looks like a great alternative: take the plastic that is already circulating in the world, get it back to shape again, and thus use it to make other useful things.
However, although this sounds very good, it is not possible for all plastics or in all conditions.
One limitation is that, for recycling, different types of plastics should not be combined, because the resulting material will not have properties suitable for use again: it can become more opaque or more brittle, for example.
Chemistry to the rescue
Many of the plastics that cannot be recycled are precisely those intended for single use This is definitely a problem.
This is because many food packages use a mixture of different types of plastics, which when recycled in a conventional manner, will simply result in a useless substance.
To solve this problem, they are looking for alternatives that make it possible to recycle more plastic.
For example, Research group University of Wisconsin They developed a chemical method that can separate the different plastics that make up specific food packages, Which makes it possible to recover them for recycling.
Another group of chemists, who Cornell UniversityAnd the She found a way to make a mixture of different polymers, such as polyethylene and polypropylene, compatible, So it does not have to be separated when recycling.
And so, although chemistry may have started our stormy history with plastics, it is now also time for a solution to be found. And of course we must also do our part: use less plastic in our daily life.