A new technology uses flashes of light to make plastic polymers fluoresce, meaning special plastics can be identified and sorted accurately at a speed of 1.5 tonnes of plastic per hour. This new process enables and simplifies plastics sorting in recycling plants and facilitates the rapid separation of plastics for re-use.
In our ‘convenient society’, 200 plastic bottles made of virgin, non-renewable resources (fossil fuels) end up in landfill every second and we produce 20 times more plastic today than we did 50 years ago.
A team of researchers from Ludwig Maximilians Universitat at Munich’s Department of Chemistry developed a new technology which allows for automated recognition of plastics’ polymer constituents by photoelectric sensors, hoping to make plastic sorting more efficient. This means more things can actually be made from various kinds of plastic with distinctive fluorescent light emissions.
This was a project led by Professor Heinz Langhals of LMU’s Department of Chemistry. ‘Polymers form the basis for sustainable recycling and products like PET bottles could be made into synthetic fiber and used for waterproof clothing. The important requirement is that the recycled material should be chemically pure (made from virgin plastic). In that case, bottles created of PET, for instance, can be relatively easily turned into synthetic fiber for use in waterproof windcheaters’.
The novel innovation of rapidly and automatedly sorting plastics can hopefully meet industrial specifications and scale to limit the environmental impact of plastic production. A featured paper on the new method appeared in the latest issue of the journal “Green and Sustainable Chemistry”.