• Tech Tech

Researchers make fascinating recycling development after soaking plastic in laundry detergent — here's why it's important

"Our development changes this [issue]."

"Our development changes this [issue]."

Photo Credit: iStock

Researchers at King's College London have developed a new way to break down plastic for recycling — by using laundry detergent.

Their findings were published in the scientific journal Cell Reports Physical Science. "The accumulation of plastic waste in the environment is an ecological disaster that requires a plurality of approaches to tackle," the researchers wrote.

The research focused on polylactic acid (PLA), a common type of single-use plastic. Though PLA is the most common commercial bioplastic — meaning that it is made from organic materials such as corn starch and sugar cane — once these materials are turned into plastic, they do not biodegrade, instead ending up in landfills or, even worse, in the ocean.

🗣️ What confuses you most about recycling protocol?

🔘 Which materials I can recycle 📦

🔘 How clean the material needs to be 🧼

🔘 What the plastic numbers mean ♻️

🔘 Nothing at all 😇

🗳️ Click your choice to see results and speak your mind

"We have chosen polylactic acid as this plastic does not have any real way of properly recycling it," said chemistry professor Alex Brogan, one of the researchers, according to Anthropocene. "Our development changes this, as we have been able to convert the plastic to its constituent building blocks in less than 40 hours at 90°C."

The King's College London scientists sought to find a way to break down PLA without having to use extreme heat and ended up landing on an enzyme called Candida antarctica lipase B, which is commonly found in most laundry detergents, modifying it and dissolving it in an ionic liquid.

After soaking a plastic cup in the solution, they found that the plastic completely dissolved after 24 hours.

The next step for the researchers is figuring out how to repurpose the dissolved plastic for recycling.

"We are now working with engineers to see how we can improve this process by including more precise pre-processing such as shredding, which would enable us to work on a larger scale," said Brogan. "The main improvement that we need to show is that you can actually make the plastic again with the degraded plastic, and close the loop."

Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.

Cool Divider