The Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) at the University of Bath is leading a project that will allow a mixture of plastics to be recycled together.
This project is part of a £4.8 million consortium, which the university leads, and will help develop catalysts for sustainable manufacturing and a circular economy.
Certain consumer goods such as milk bottles and margarine tubs are made from different plastic, meaning that they cannot be recycled together and have to be separated by householders or at the recycling centre, a process that can mean that the plastics end up in landfill.
However, the new project led by the CSCT will allow a mixture of plastics to be recycled together.
A team of scientists and engineers at the CSCT and Manchester University are examining ways of chemically breaking down mixtures of plastics into their constituent molecules, which can then be used to manufacture new plastics or other high value items.
Director of the CSCT Professor Matthew Davidson said: “Currently only about one third of plastic food packaging in the UK is recycled. The UK Government aims to increase that to 75 per cent by 2035. Part of this problem is that plastics have to be separated into different types as each type has different properties and they can’t be recycled together.
“Our colleagues in Manchester have already demonstrated a process to recover the chemical value from waste plastics and, together, we aim to develop this further in order to develop new technology for mixed plastics waste. This means in the not-too-distant future people will be able to throw all their plastics in the same recycling bin without worrying about separating them. This could make a big difference to recycling rates and help us solve the urgent problem of plastic waste.”
The consortium is one of three partnerships supported by a total of £14 million investment into the UK’s Catalysis Hub by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which is part of UK Research and Innovation.
This project is one of seven challenges being tackled by a consortium of UK universities and industrial partners, led by the University of Bath to develop new catalysts that will allow more sustainable manufacturing. The other challenges include:
- Using the carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels to make new fuels or high-value chemicals for the chemical manufacturing industry
- Making new sustainable plastics from bio-based materials that can be programmed to biodegrade at the end of their useful life
- Developing new catalysts from cheap, benign and abundant metals.