New plastic recycling method ups the profit incentive and ease

A new plastic recycling technique provides an economic incentive by converting waste plastic products to more valuable ionomers.

Published Tue, Feb 8 2022 5:02 AM CST   |   Updated Sat, Mar 5 2022 11:05 PM CST

A study describing the new recycling method has been published in the journal Science.

New plastic recycling method ups the profit incentive and ease 01 |

Researchers from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill have discovered a method of breaking down plastics to create new materials that are tougher and stronger than the original material. Plastics are traditionally difficult to recycle due to the strength of their carbon-hydrogen chemical bonds, but UNC chemists identified a new reagent to help them break these bonds.

"Our approach views plastic waste as a potentially valuable resource for the production of new molecules and materials. We hope this method could drive an economic incentive to recycle plastic, literally turning trash into treasure," said Frank Leibfarth, assistant professor of chemistry in the UNC College of Arts & Sciences.

A low-density plastic known as polyolefin, used for packaging consumer electronics, is a polymer that researchers could strip hydrogen atoms from selectively to create a higher-value plastic known as an ionomer. A popular example of an ionomer is Dow's SURLYN, widely used in food packaging.

"The versatility of our approach is that it enables many valuable transformations of carbon-hydrogen bonds on such a wide range of important compounds," said UNC-Chapel Hill professor Erik Alexanian.

You can read more from the study here.


Adam grew up watching his dad play Turok 2 and Age of Empires on a PC in his computer room, and learned a love for video games through him. Adam was always working with computers, which helped build his natural affinity for working with them, leading to him building his own at 14, after taking apart and tinkering with other old computers and tech lying around. Adam has always been very interested in STEM subjects, and is always trying to learn more about the world and the way it works.

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