Plastic. Hard plastic. Oozing plastic. Multi coloured plastic. Plasticyou put in your mouth.
Synthetic plastic fibres you wear. Space plastic. Plastic you work with. Life saving medical plastic. Our planet isabounding with this unique and fantastically handy petroleum product.
As Iflitter through the endless number of web pages devoted to this newfandangled invention I have come to realise there is no way anyone couldknow everything about it. So instead I focus my sight in the process ofrecycling plastic and the S. T. E.
E. P. issues related to it, and there aremany. The fleshy aura if imminent disaster always fills the room when thesubject of environmental awareness is brought up.
Indeed the devastatingeffects of plastic on the environment are news to nobody, but the issuenever ceases to carry with it a sense of urgency rivalling that of a heartattack. Well, with me at least. While there has been a tremendous amount ofresearch and effort devoted to the betterment of plastics recycling itremains in its infancy when compared to other materials. The problem withplastics recycling is that it requires too much heat and energy making itborderline cost ineffective which, in terms of economics and society, is adisaster. For a plastic to be recycled it must be soft.
Oozing, almost. Thisentails heating the material to a scorching 200* Celsius. The dollar signsinvolved with this process are astronomically high due the amount of energyneeded. In addition to money, the heating process severely taxes thestrength of the microscopic polymer chains that make up the material.
Companies exploring the recycling market see this as a crippling blow tothe resale value of the material and overall profit of the process and that’scares ’em all away’. In terms of the environment, it can be debated thatthe amount of energy and resources need to recycle plastic outweigh thebenefits of the process. So where does all this leave us? It would not be feasible to removeplastic from consumer’s shelves as it has integrated itself into almostevery aspect of our daily lives (I’m glad my shampoo bottles aren’t made ofglass). We must instead orient our gaze towards the creation of a plasticwhich can be cost-effectively recycled. We must orient our gaze towards theAmerican scientists which have done just that. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researcher Anne Mayes andcolleagues believe they have found the answer to the high cost of recyclingwith the creation of ‘polybutyl acetate’; a rigid yet soft mixture ofpolystyrene.
This plastic can be recycled at room temperature, requiringonly a pressure of 340 atm (the amount of pressure used in conventionalrecycling) to be re-molded. Furthermore, polybutyl acetate does not loseits strength after the recycling process with samples remaining as strongas ever after 10 cycles. If this new material is proved on the industrial scale it willsignificantly reduce the amount of disposed plastic, which can take decadesto biodegrade. While MIT researchers are not hoping this will replaceplastic (meaning that it will have to be sorted by hand for recycling),they are hoping it will be a large substitute. Indeed the future is alittle brighter for our petroleum based friend and for the planet thehouses the beings who created it. .