A new polymer additive could “revolutionize plastics recycling,” according to researchers at Cornell University and University of Minnesota.
The team says they have developed an efficient technology to meld polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), which account for two-thirds of the world’s plastics. Because the two plastics have different chemical structures, they cannot be repurposed together to make new products.
The scientists, however, say they have developed a multiblock polymer that, when added to a mix of the two otherwise incompatible materials, create a new and mechanically tough polymer.
The two groups’ work is detailed in a paper, “Combining polyethylene and polypropylene: Enhanced performance with PE/iPP multiblock polymers,” published online Feb. 23 in Science.
The breakthrough could significantly improve global recycling rates of plastic packaging, which is only 14 percent, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
In addition to increasing recycling rates, this technology could enable manufacturers to produce products using less material — and, thus, creating less waste.
A milk jug, for example, could be made with 30 percent less material, said Geoffrey Coates, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Cornell University and co-author of the paper. “You’re using less plastic, less oil, you have less stuff to recycle, you have a lighter product that uses less fossil fuel to move it,” Coates said.