PLASTIC POLLUTION is a very important issue for conservationists and environmentalists and a serious concern in the Philippines. To solve the problem, scientists are developing a recycling method that replaces all fossil raw materials used in new plastic production. The technique has the potential to eliminate the climate impact of plastic and may rid the air of carbon dioxide.

Fossil fuel use is the main cause of anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions so moving away from the use of such fuels is essential to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 [degrees Celsius].

Researchers think that carbon atoms in plastic waste serve as an important untapped resource. These existing resources are often burned or thrown in landfills. Thermochemical technologies can target this wasted carbon and use it as a raw material to produce plastics of similar quality to those created with fossil fuels. The atoms can be harvested from waste with or without food residue.

If the process is powered by renewable energy, we also get plastic products with more than 95 percent lower climate impact than those produced today, which effectively means negative emissions for the entire system.

To complete the process, the carbon atoms would need to be heated to 600 to 800 degrees Celsius, converting the material to gas. Adding hydrogen to this gas can replace the building blocks of plastics and researchers are working to ensure the gas can be used and converted in the same factories currently used to manufacture plastic.

This process can also be powered by renewable sources like solar, wind or hydro power, making them more energy efficient than current systems in use. Experts would also be able to harvest excess heat produced in the process to offset heat production from waste incineration, thereby eliminating carbon dioxide emissions resulting from energy recovery.

Global application of advanced thermochemical recycling technologies has great potential. Less energy than used in today’s material system may likely be required, and carbon emissions can be reduced using different energy sources, leading to near-zero carbon emissions with renewable energy.

More research is needed to better understand best deployment strategies and determine their economic and energy implications.

If this tech becomes reality, then it’s one more step in the right direction. If everyone on mother earth did their part of disposing plastics and waste properly by reusing, recycling, reducing, etc., such fancy methods wouldn’t be necessary. I think this is really good news in combating plastic pollution. Since people are such a huge consumer of plastic, this system would eliminate so much pollution and still provide a supply of new plastic without using the current methodology requiring the need for oil. By Manny Palomar, PhD (EV Mail March 6-12, 2023 issue)