The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science blog updated readers on the state of plastics pollution problem, and Office of Science-funded discovery research to tackle the problem, including Ames Laboratory's new EFRC, the Institute for Cooperative Upcycling of Plastics.
There are more than 110 pounds of plastic per person produced in the world each year. At the current rate of production and disposal, there will be more plastics by mass in the ocean than fish by 2050.
Current recycling systems won’t provide us a way out of this challenge. In the U.S., less than 10 percent of discarded plastics are recycled. The rest are dumped in landfills or burned in incinerators.
Even if we could capture all the discarded plastics, they would have limited uses. Most recycling facilities heat up the plastic to reshape it. But unlike glass or metal, the more often plastic is recycled, the less useful it becomes. Its quality goes down and it can be used in a smaller variety of products.
New solutions may be possible. But they’ll require innovation on every level, from basic science in laboratories to commercial collection techniques in neighborhoods. To facilitate this shift, the DOE’s Office of Science is supporting discovery research to tackle the problem.