The material can be broken down in parts at the molecular level

Scientists create new plastic that could be fully recyclable

A team of researchers working at the US Department of Energy says it has created a kind of plastic that could lead to products that are 100% recyclable.

The team works at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. It recently reported the discovery in a study in the journal Nature Chemistry.

The researchers say the new material is a plastic polymer called polydiketoenamine, or PDK. The team reports that the material can be broken down in parts at the molecular level.

It can then be built up again to form plastics of different shapes, textures, colours and more. The researchers say this process can be repeated over and over again – without the plastic material losing any performance or quality.

The team explained that all plastics – from water bottles to automobile parts – are made up of polymers with a molecular structure. These polymers are made up of carbon-containing compounds known as monomers.

The research team reported that, with the newly discovered PDK material, the monomers could be recovered and separated from any chemical additives. This part of the process would involve putting the plastic material into “a highly acidic solution”.

Brett Helms is a scientist at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry who worked on the study. He said the team is interested in the chemistry that can redirect plastic lifecycles from “linear to circular”. This could be especially important for materials that currently have very few recycling possibilities.

Next, the researchers say they plan to develop PDK plastics “with a wide range of thermal and mechanical properties”. These plastics could be used for many kinds of cloth, as well as things such as 3D printed materials and foams. In addition, the team is looking to include plant-based materials in the process.