Don’t recycle plastic, upcycle it instead

The more than 400 trillion plastic water and soda bottles that the world’s consumers buy each year are made of a plastic called polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. Recycling isn’t a real solution to the rising tide of plastic waste: PET can only be recycled two to six times before its fibers become too short to cohere into new items. At that point, spent PET enters the waste stream to linger for millennia.

But now the US National Renewable Energy Lab has found a way to give PET a much longer useful lifespan. The lab calls it “upcycling” instead of recycling.

The researchers combined recycled PET with waste parts from plants to make a new material it’s calling “fiber-reinforced plastics”, or FRP.

FRPs are much sturdier that PET so they’re suitable for durable products such as snowboards, wind turbine blades, and vehicle parts for which PET alone is too weak. That makes FRPs up to three times as valuable as PET, in part because making FRPs uses half the energy of current PET recycling processes and gives off 40 percent fewer polluting gases.


Waste plastic is carpeting our seabeds, overflowing our landfills, and its breakdown products are lodging in our bodies. The lab’s hope is that FRPs will create a value-added market for used PET and raise plastic bottles’ recycling rate well above its ??????

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