Scientists at the University of Birmingham and University of Bath have developed a chemical recycling method for polylactic acid-based plastics that they say converts the material into a biodegradable solvent that could be used for products like cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
PLA and other bioplastics are made from plants, but not all bioplastics are biodegradable. PLA will decompose only under specific conditions in an industrial composting facility; it is “practically nondegradable” in seawater, the researchers say. They used methanol and a zinc-based catalyst developed at the University of Bath to break down the plastic and produce the solvent, called methyl lactate. They tested the method on a disposable cup, 3D printer waste, and a children’s toy, according to a release from the University of Birmingham, trying different temperatures as well as the impact of the products’ colorants, additives, size, and molecular weight. Before this process can be used in an industrial setting, the reactor needs to be scaled up, the researchers said in the news release.
The UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funded the research, which appears in the May 1, 2020, issue of Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research. Visit www.birmingham.ac.uk