Chemical Recycling Technologies Could Help Fix Plastic Pollution

By Anthony K

It’s hard to visualize a day-to-day life without plastics. Cheap, lightweight, and durable, materials used to make plastics outdo numerous others in a wide variety of applications. For instance, plastics are used to make electronic components such as computers that enable us to access the internet. However, our continued love for plastic has been at an environmental cost. Statistics estimate that of the approximately 8.3 billion tons of plastic manufactured between 1950 to 2017. More than 75% of these are now waste. 79% of which have accumulated either in the natural environment or in landfills. Plastics are also accumulating in oceans and becoming a big problem. To solve this menace, research is increasingly being done on the area, including the chemical recycling of plastics.

Image Courtesy of The Conversation

Long-chain molecules referred to as polymers make up plastics. Polymers comprise lesser and repeating building blocks referred to as monomers. Typically, monomers are made of diverse sizes and shapes. The material properties of plastics are determined by the type of bond that is between them.  Such properties include the plastics’ toughness and temperature at which it melts. The properties, in turn, determines how the plastic is used.

Image courtesy of

Whereas mechanical recycling entails melting, chemical recycling relies on chemical alteration, involving breaking the connections amongst monomers. At the molecular level, it breaks down the plastic. Through the process, it is possible to recover the monomer in closed-door recycling. It is also possible to transform plastic waste into a higher-value chemical through open-loop recycling.