Today’s Solutions: January 18, 2022

The plastic problem that we face today is a serious issue that is inspiring many scientists and researchers to find alternatives or modify the plastic manufacturing process so that the material can safely and quickly degrade.

Researchers in China have done just that by creating a new kind of plastic that breaks down in only a week when exposed to sunlight and oxygen. The team, led by Liang Luo from China’s Huazhong University of Science and Technology, thinks that the material they’ve developed would make a great alternative for electronics to make them easier to break down once they reach the end of their lives.

Once exposed to sunlight and oxygen, the new plastic disintegrates and decomposes entirely within one week, leaving no trace of environmentally harmful microplastics behind. The only by-product is naturally occurring succinic acid which could be upcycled for commercial use in food or pharmaceuticals. Obviously, this specific material can’t be used for shopping bags or soda bottles, but because it’s only stable as a functional material in the dark and without oxygen, it could be the perfect solution for use in flexible electronics or smartphones.

Properly discarding and recycling electronic devices is tricky, but Luo is confident that the material would last several years if used inside the devices where it would be isolated from sunlight and air during its life. This would make disposing of electronics a much easier process. The team is excited about the potential of their disintegrating plastic and will continue to refine it so that it can eventually be put out on the commercial market.

Source Study: Journal of the American Chemical Society—Complete degradation of a conjugated polymer into green upcycling products by sunlight in air.

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