Advancements in plastics will enable plastic bottles, containers, and PET-based fabrics are collected, ground up, and combined with a chemical catalyst in a pressure cooker set to above 200 degrees Celsius. With heat and a small amount of pressure, the catalyst is able to digest and clean the ground-up plastic, and the process separates contaminants (e.g., food residue, glue, dirt, dyes, and pigments) from material that is useable for new PET. The useable matter (called a monomer) takes the form of a white powder, which can be fed directly into a polyester reactor to make brand new plastics.
In the coming years, advancements like VolCat will make plastics recycling more efficient and more versatile in treating more material types than its predecessors. Unlike traditional mechanical recycling, future plastics recycling will break down both colored and clear plastics, as well as dirty and clean containers, producing a high-quality final product that is 100 percent recyclable. (Mechanical recycling can only be used on clear, pre-cleaned containers and results in a material that’s only reusable when combined with new PET). For people at home, future recycling advancements will mean no more sorting, rinsing, and separating used containers, wrappers, or plastics. All polyester waste can go directly into the trashcan and onto the curb for pickup, and from there to a recycling facility, to be digested and transformed into new and renewable material.
In the next half decade, plastic recycling advancements like VolCat could be adopted around the globe to combat global plastic waste. People at the grocery store buying a bottle of soda or container of strawberries will know that the plastic they’ve purchased won’t end up in the ocean, but instead will be repurposed and put back on the shelf.