• Tech Tech

Scientists develop method to transform plastic waste into a powerful climate solution: 'It's a game-changer'

"A new way to utilize waste plastics, which are a serious social problem."

"A new way to utilize waste plastics, which are a serious social problem."

Photo Credit: iStock

Scientists have developed a method that will allow plastic waste to be used in chemical reactions that make toxic compounds safer — and the process involves smashing plastic bags with a metal ball.

Plastic bags — like the kind you find in grocery stores — have long been detrimental to human, animal, and environmental health because of choking hazards and the fact that they take hundreds of years to break down. 

Now, researchers at the Institute for Chemical Reaction Design and Discovery (ICReDD) at Hokkaido University have discovered that when plastic bags are thrown into a ball mill (which rapidly mixes solids using a steel ball), their chemical bonds break apart, creating radicals, which are agents that set off chemical reactions that lead to dehalogenation, according to Interesting Engineering.

These radicals can strip halogens out of toxic substances, thus making them safer for everyone and everything that comes into contact with them. Interesting Engineering says of the breakthrough, "It's a game-changer for handling toxic compounds used in various industries."

Since humans produce a scary amount of plastic waste — about 267 million tons a year, according to some estimates — finding alternative uses for plastic is essential in curbing pollution to keep as much plastic waste out of our environment as possible. Scientists have also developed ways to convert plastic waste into valuable chemicals, asphalt, and energy.

"I believe that this approach will lead to not only the development of safe and highly efficient radical-based reactions, but also to a new way to utilize waste plastics, which are a serious social problem," said associate professor Koji Kubota of Hokkaido's ICReDD program, which operates in conjunction with the World Premier International Research Center Initiative. 

Professor Hajime Ito said the process should be cheap and also safe: "Our new approach using stable, cheap, and abundant plastic materials as initiators for radical chain reactions holds the significant potential to foster the development of industrially attractive, safe, and highly efficient chemical processes."

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

Cool Divider