The "Holy Grail" of recycling may finally be here. Scientists at Berkeley Lab say they've found a new way to create plastics that are 100% recyclable, meaning they can be used, recycled, and re-used without losing value, Fox News reports. "Most plastics were never made to be recycled,” says lead scientist Peter Christensen in a statement. "But we have discovered a new way to assemble plastics that takes recycling into consideration from a molecular perspective." Called poly(diketoenamine), or PDK, the new material could help unblock the plastic pileup at recycling plants and ease ocean pollution that could be sucking $2.5 trillion from sectors including fisheries, tourism, and human health, according to one study.
Unlike regular plastic, PDK can apparently be undone by a simple acid bath. "Recovered monomers can be re-manufactured into the same polymer formulation, without loss of performance, as well as other polymer formulations with differentiated properties," per the study in Nature Chemistry. Most plastics are composed of molecules called polymers that are made up of compounds called monomers; the monomers are bound to chemicals that make them hard to process and recycle. Just 9.1% of US-made plastic was recycled in 2015, a 0.4% drop the year before, according to the EPA's latest available numbers. But so far PDK is only in the lab, notes Gizmodo. For now the PDK team is trying to improve its invention by mixing in materials made from plants. (Meanwhile, one state has banned Styrofoam.)