Turning plastic into gold, sort of

Plastic waste from discarded appliances and gadgets is the fastest growing type of rubbish and a huge problem. Thankfully, the EU is backing a new project to increase recycling rates. 

The PolyCE project aims to develop an entirely new, eco-friendly type of plastic. The project will do a detailed study of the current situation and potential solutions as well as trials of new plastics to help them go mainstream. 

In a nutshell, the project is aiming to make plastic a lot easier to recycle so that it doesn’t end up being processed in crude, toxic and dangerous sites in Africa and Asia. The shocking ways in which waste from Europe is being processed was recently highlighted by a BBC report. 

Currently there are millions of tonnes of discarded gadget waste and plastic being exported from Europe to other parts of the world every year. 

The four year project brings together academics, industry and environmental NGOs.  The project will try and figure out why so little waste gets recycled and come up with ways to rescue more of for reuse.

One strategy is to work out a quality grading system for plastics that will allow the recycling industry to understand what they are using dealing with and encourage a move to less toxic additives. It also paves the way for the development of novel additives to make plastic less toxic.

Designers will be included in the project and encouraged to use the new materials and an online trading forum will also be set up. Philips and Whirlpool are among the companies on board and they have pledged to add the new material into its consumer products.

There are obvious benefits here around reducing waste and toxic pollution. But it is worth flagging that the project will look to develop toxic-free flame retardants. The scientists hope to be able to create clean alternatives that keep their properties through several rounds of recycling.

The four year EU-funded project is set to conclude in  summer 2021.

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