Plastics are used in thousands of products in almost all sectors of the economy due to their versatility. Modern plastics, based on organic polymers can be shaped and tailored to have specific physical and chemical properties suitable for most applications. However, the beneficial properties of plastics for everyday use, such as their durability and long life, become a problem when plastics ‘leak’ into terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments, as they accumulate rather than degrade. In particular, the impact of plastic waste on the marine environment has recently attracted widespread attention. In the MCAG we are exploring the recycling of plastics and polymers using a variety of chemical and catalytic approaches. Our research efforts are primarily focused on developing strategies to recycle plastic waste into new polymers as well using plastic waste to generate high value products, such as oils and waxes.
Figure 1: Sustainability
The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our atmosphere has increased significantly over the 100 years, leading to problems associated with climate change that we see today. CO2 comes from several processes including the burning of fossil fuels and from chemical production. Whilst CO2 is not good in our atmosphere at high quantities, it can be used and recycled for industrial processes, such as the decaffeination of coffee. In the MCAG we are using CO2 as a solvent for growing materials for a range of applications, e.g. batteries, electronics and pharmaceuticals. CO2 is a good alternative to organic solvents as it is non-toxic, recyclable and be easily separated from the materials produced.