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Polymers for Chemical Circularity

Statler researchers are trying to solve the enormous problem of post-consumer plastic. Every year about 35.7 million tons of synthetic plastic is generated in the US, of which 91 % goes to landfills. The main problem comes from the mixed nature of the waste plastic which has poor properties, making it difficult to create marketable products from recovered plastics. Researchers added glass fibers to commingled (mixed grades) plastics. The resulting material is useful for making equipment housings and it had the same properties as virgin polymer containing the same amount of glass reinforcement. In another project, nanoclay was added to polylactic acid (PLA) packaging films (food plastic) to see if this could keep out oxygen and moisture that contribute to food spoilage. PLA is a sustainable material derived from agricultural sources. The proper dispersion of the nanoparticles played a critical role in reducing moisture and oxygen levels similar to commercial, plastic packaging films. This breakthrough development can significantly reduce plastic litter since PLA is compostable. Another project, aims to upcycle cotton fibers (plastics from nature) recovered from discarded mattresses. These fibers will be mixed with PLA to increase its mechanical properties, and the natural fiber reinforced PLA will be used in 3D printing.

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