New zirconia-based catalyst can make plastics upcycling more sustainable

A new type of catalyst breaks down polyolefin plastics into new, useful products. This project is part of a new strategy to reduce the amount of plastic waste and its impact on our environment, as well as recover value that is lost when plastics are thrown away. The catalyst was developed by a team from the Institute for Cooperative Upcycling of Plastic (iCOUP), a U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Frontier Research Center.

Upcycling is the new recycling

The world generates about 300 million tons of plastic waste annually, and more than 90% of all plastic ever made has never been recycled. Part of what drives all that waste into landfills or into the environment is the difficulty of recycling plastic, which is designed to last for a very long time. Traditional plastic recycling suffers from a fundamental flaw, said Marcus Foston: there’s no financial incentive for companies to do it.

Closed-loop additive manufacturing fueled by upcycled plastic

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed an upcycling approach that adds value to discarded plastics for reuse in additive manufacturing, or 3D printing. The readily adoptable, scalable method introduces a closed-loop strategy that could globally reduce plastic waste and cut carbon emissions tied to plastic production.

Rethinking Plastics

In a new issue of Science, devoted to the plastics problem, University of Delaware researchers LaShanda Korley and Thomas Epps, III, join collaborators in calling for new approaches to plastics design, production and use, with the goal of keeping plastics out of landfills and waterways, reusing the valuable resources they represent indefinitely in a “circular” plastics economy.