Turning old plastic into gold

Turning old plastic into gold

Plastic has been manufactured for commercial uses for 60 years. According to National Geographic Magazine, more than 8.3 billion metric tons have been produced in that time. Although plastic is very useful in everything from food packaging to medical protective gear, most of it decomposes very slowly.

As a result, there is a global mountain of plastic trash that has many of us worried about the future of the environment. One of the problems is that turning old plastic into gold through recycling is not very easy. It involves heating, melting and then reshaping. The recycling process uses a lot of energy and releases a lot of toxic gas into the atmosphere.

Professor of Chemistry at the University of California Santa Barbara, Susannah Scott and her team may have found a new way to recycle plastic. According to Professor Scott,

My team at UC Santa Barbara, working with colleagues at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Cornell, discovered a clean way to turn polyethylene into useful smaller molecules.

Polyethene is one of the world’s most useful and most used plastic types and one of the largest contributors to plastic waste. Turning waste plastic into valuable molecules is called upcycling.

More than 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced in 60 years.

Professor Susannah Scott, UC Santa Barbara

The process still has to go through more testing and then has to be able to handle an industrial amount of plastic. This is likely to take a few more years. We’re waiting to see if we can really turn old plastic into gold…

Find out more about his discovery

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