University scientists develop technique for chemical recycling of PLA bioplastic

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A cup made from PLA

Scientists from the Universities of Birmingham and Bath have developed a technique for chemical recycling of polyactic acid (PLA) bioplastic.

The team has shown that their chemical recycling process not only speeds up the time taken to recycle, but produces a biodegradable solvent. This solvent could be used in a wide variety of industries including cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

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Using a zinc-based catalyst and methanol, the scientists were able to break down real consumer PLA-based products into methyl lactate.

University of Birmingham School of Chemical Engineering researcher and lead author Luis Román-Ramírez said: “We were excited to see that it was possible to obtain high quantities of the green solvent regardless of samples’ characteristics due to colorants, additives, sizes and even molecular weight.”

University of Birmingham lead researcher Professor Joe Wood added: “The process we’ve designed has real potential to contribute to ongoing efforts to reduce the amount of plastic going into landfill or being incinerated creating new valuable products from waste.

“Our technique breaks down the plastics into their chemical building blocks before ‘rebuilding’ them into a new product, so we can guarantee that the new product is of sufficiently high quality for use in other products and processes.”

The next stage of the trial is to see whether it can be scaled up to industrial-sized processes.

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