Chinese scientists develop new method of plastic recycling

Updated: Jul 6, 2023 Xinhua Print
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BEIJING -- A Chinese research team has developed a new method of recycling polyethylene plastic waste that could cut costs while producing a range of useful petroleum-based materials, according to a paper published recently in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Polyethylene plastic, which is one of the five main types of plastic, is highly stable and does not biodegrade easily. However, the research team from the University of Science and Technology of China has discovered a new recycling process that employs existing technology while producing useful by-products.

Considering the similarities between polyethylene and oil, in terms of both chemical structure and composition, the team borrowed technology from the oil industry to devise its new method.

The team devised a "hydrogen breathing" strategy, using catalysts to break down the chemical structure of waste plastic and reorganize it, forming high-value ring-shaped hydrocarbons. These can then be used as raw materials for the synthesis of drugs, dyes, resins and fibers.

Han Buxing, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that the research uses environmental pollutants such as abandoned polyethylene plastics to prepare petroleum-based chemical products, providing a new method for the "artificial carbon cycle" of waste plastics.

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