In a significant step towards solving the problem of waste management, researchers have devised a way to turn carbon atoms in mixed waste into new plastic without having any impact on the environment. The new method does not require fossil raw material and can be a cleaner way to create plastic products. Currently, only a small fraction of the waste material produced is recycled.
In a new study, researchers from the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have made use of the carbon atoms in the waste to create raw material for the production of plastics.
“There are enough carbon atoms in waste to meet the needs of all global plastic production. Using these atoms, we can decouple new plastic products from the supply of virgin fossil raw materials,” said Henrik Thunman, Professor of Energy Technology at Chalmers University of Technology and author of the study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production.
The new recycling method is inspired by the natural carbon cycle and eliminates the need to use fossil raw materials to make plastic. The carbon atoms used in the study are usually burned up or dumped in landfills rather than being recycled.
The team have proposed a method in which thermochemical technique is used to treat waste material. The waste is heated at 600-800 degree Celsius and turned into a gas. Hydrogen is then added to the gas so that it can be used as the building block of plastics.
Researchers are working to develop a thermochemical recycling method that generates gas that can replace the fossil oil or gas used in factories to make plastic products. For this, they put old plastic products and paper cups with our without food residue into reactors at the Chalmers Power Central.
“The key to more extensive recycling is to look at residual waste in a whole new way: as a raw material full of useful carbon atoms. The waste then acquires value, and you can create economic structures to collect and use the material as a raw material worldwide,” said Thunman.
Thunman explained that their technique differs from how the way waste is recycled in nature. “We don’t have to take the detour via the atmosphere to circulate the carbon in the form of carbon dioxide,” he said.
Thunman added that all the carbon atoms they need to make plastic are already there in the waste and can be recycled using electricity and heat.