11/05/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 11/05/2019 11:23
Many waste items provide important value before being tossed into a bin. Discarded plastic products, for example, originally serve as packaging to keep school lunches fresh, lightweight bottles for efficiently transporting fresh water to hard-to-reach areas, containers for soaps and detergents that facilitate hygiene - and much more. But what if that initial purpose was just the beginning? What would it look like if a piece of plastic retained value as long as it exists on the planet, and could be put to good use time and time again?
Perhaps the biggest impediment to realizing this vision has been the physical limitations of the predominant recycling method - known as 'mechanical recycling.' But in the past few years, petrochemical manufacturers have made major breakthroughs in what's known as 'chemical recycling' that could completely transform how we define 'waste' and help populations around the world get more out of plastic.
In recent decades, recycling plastic has almost exclusively meant melting down mixed, shredded plastic into uniform pellets of large molecules, or polymers, for manufacturers to transform into new products. But a plastic polymer is made up of monomers that can only withstand this heated mechanical recycling process a limited number of times - repeated melting weakens the chemical bonds between monomers, making the plastic more degradable.
Thankfully, petrochemical companies are making enormous stridesin extending the life of used plastic products by turning them back into their original building-block monomers. This process of chemical recycling allows for nearly limitless recycling of the same materials without the degradation caused in the mechanical process - essentially unlocking the latent value of what has so long been considered plastic 'waste.'
Advancements in chemical recycling and other, related technologies are a direct result of the research and investment of petrochemical companies. As experts in making virgin (non-recycled) polymers from their original feedstocks (primarily natural gas liquids at petroleum oil), petrochemical makers are exceptionally well-positioned for success in this space. Here are some updates from the past 6 months alone:
These examples are part of a much larger effort by petrochemical companies that is pushing us toward a world in which less plastic goes to waste.
In June, ExxonMobil introduced two new types of polyethylene to allow full and easier recycling of laminated and other sealant packaging materials used for drink cartons, paper cups, aluminum foil and other products.