Scientists Have Created A Plastic That Can Be 'Infinitely' Recycled

We dump 12 million tonnes of rubbish into the ocean every year.

A team of scientists have developed a revolutionary new type of plastic that can be completely recycled back into its original state an infinite number of times.

Developed by a team of scientists from Colorado State University, led by Eugene Chen, professor in the Department of Chemistry, the new polymer could offer a solution to the vast quantities of plastic we throw away every single year.

Workers sort waste at the Ecores waste processing enterprise on the outskirts of Minsk, March 12, 2015.
Workers sort waste at the Ecores waste processing enterprise on the outskirts of Minsk, March 12, 2015.
Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters

Our addiction to this cheap, durable material has revolutionised our lives but it’s also killing the planet at an astonishing rate. Every year it’s estimated that we dump 12 million tonnes of plastic rubbish into the ocean.

Recycling can offer some hope, but ultimately when you recycle plastic you’re actually just turning it into a less useful type of plastic. This process is not exactly straightforward either and requires considerable amounts of energy to perform.

It is at this point that Professor Chen believes he can offer a solution with this brand-new material.

Bill Cotton/Colorado State University

It offers many of the same characteristics you would want from plastic including lightness, strength, durability and heat resistance. Yet when you’re finished using it, rather than it simply going into a landfill to break down over millions of years this can be reused almost immediately.

The waste polymer is simply collected up, placed in a reactor and then de-polymerized back into its original state. This is impossible with the current plastics that we use.

“The polymers can be chemically recycled and reused, in principle, infinitely,” Chen said.

It should be noted that the polymer is still in the early stages of development, but the team are already working on scaling their production up to see how cost-effective it would be to produce on a mass-scale.

“It would be our dream to see this chemically recyclable polymer technology materialise in the marketplace,” Chen said.

Earlier this month it was announced that a team of UK scientists had discovered an organism that was actually capable of breaking down and eating one of the world’s most popular plastics - polyethylene terephthalate or PET.

The discovery stemmed from 2016 when a team of Japanese scientists sifting through plastic waste found bacteria capable of breaking down and “eating” one of the world’s most popular plastics ― polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. It was hailed as a potential breakthrough at the time.

But in a new twist, British and American scientists announced that while studying this bacteria, they had accidentally created a mutant enzyme that’s even more efficient at breaking down plastic bottles.