Scientists at the University at Buffalo have received a two-year, $555,000 grant to deconstruct flexible plastic materials and find secondary uses for them. The effort addresses one of the biggest streams of plastic waste, and it could help ease the plastic pollution crisis that’s threatening drinking water, wildlife, food supplies and more.
Packaging Waste into Containers
Nearly 50% of the world’s plastic waste comes from packaging, according to Our World in Data, a scientific research publication based at the University of Oxford. Within that stream of waste, about 50% consists of polymer-based, multilayer packaging. The major component of these thin layers of plastic is polyolefins. Common examples include Saran Wrap and Cling Wrap.
Researchers will investigate how to separate polyolefins and other plastics from additives or impurities by using advanced solvents. The goal is to render the polyolefins suitable for reuse in new products, such as containers for liquids like milk and detergent.
“This is a very common form of plastic that has in many ways flown under the radar when it comes to recycling
,” says Paschalis Alexandridis, UB Distinguished Professor in the department of chemical and biological engineering. “The upside is that we think there are ways to repurpose these materials in an energy-efficient and environmentally friendly manner.”
Project’s Ultimate Objectives
Ultimately, the project’s objectives are to deconstruct
and multilayer packaging utilizing delamination; recover polyolefin films using separation processes; and to validate that the recovered plastics can replace primary materials without loss of properties or performance.
“We’re not breaking down any molecules, we’re deconstructing them by peeling off and separating polyolefin layers from other materials
,” says Alexandridis, who adds that the approach, called chemical recycling, creates fewer greenhouse gas emissions than other recycling methods, Alexandridis says.
Project partners include Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Modern Corporation. Funding comes from the REMADE Institute, a public-private partnership established by the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Manufacturing Office to accelerate the nation’s transition to a circular economy.