A mind-boggling 13 billion plastic bottles are tossed in the trash or recycled each year. And while most plastics are recyclable, the resulting materials are limited to "second generation reuse" only—so anything made out of recycled plastics has to be thrown on the landfill pile at the end of it's life. But now researchers from IBM and Stanford say they have solved the problem by developing plastics that can be continuously recycled.
The discovery, published in the American Chemical Society journal Macromolecules, involves the use of organic catalysts instead of the metal oxide and metal hydroxide catalysts typically used in plastic-forming polymers. While metal catalysts degrade the polymers so that the plastic becomes increasingly unrecyclable over time, the organic catalysts stay strong.
Another advantage: the organic catalysts are cheap. And eventually, researchers believe that the new, green plastic could be used as drug delivery devices for cancer patients. IBM is already talking to pharmaceutical companies about a potential pilot project. We're sure that there are other applications to the technology that haven't been explored yet, or as IBM says, there are "sustainability implications across a wide range of industries including biodegradable plastics, plastics recycling, health care and microelectronics." Stay tuned.