E-Waste Can Be Viable Source of Reusable Polymers

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Researchers reveal that reusable polymers can be obtained from mixed plastic electronics waste, according to a study conducted on March 14, 2018.

An environmentally friendly and energy efficient process that can separate mixed polymers has been developed by the researchers at the Illinois Sustainability Technology Center. These polymers can be further recycled to produce high-quality plastic products. Landfills and the recycling industries are largely burdened by e-wastes from refrigerators, televisions, computers, mobile phones, and other electronic devices. Materials such as glass and metals are easily recyclable, however, plastics that contain mixed polymers still remains a challenge. Unlike the plastic items that are made of complex polymer blends, items made from single polymers can be easily recycled.

This is the first study that demonstrated a chemical solvent process, which is non-toxic and energy efficient that can recover polymers from plastic blends. Dichloromethane is a chemical involved in most of the solvent methods. This is not preferred, as they release carcinogenic vapors that can contaminate the surrounding. This study has made use of a solvent called NMP, which releases vapors only when they are heated up to a temperature of 180 degree Celsius. The polymers does not dissolve at this temperature. Another important property of this new method is that evaporated solvent can be condensed and reused again. B.K. Sharma, researcher and study co-author said, “The objective of studies like these is not only to find ways to recycle this abundant mixed-plastic waste, but to do so efficiently in an environmentally benign way.”

The research team was successful in demonstrating their new process of separating mixed polymers at lab scale. Further, they are planning to run the recycled polymers through a manufacturing process and if it is successful, they will begin a project in pilot-scale.

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