Scientists Created a Plastic That’s Infinitely Recyclable


What if the answer to our massive plastic
waste problem was a new material that could take any shape, any color, be used in any
way and instead of having to throw it away at the end of its lifetime, we could just
recycle it forever? Well… that material just might be here in
the form of a brand new kind of plastic. Recycling plastic is actually trickier than
it sounds. First of all, plastic is super diverse, so
you can’t use the same recycling process on all the different plastic things we make. Looking at these horrific displays of plastics
polluting the environment, whether that was in our oceans or on land and in landfills. And it was pretty clear that plastics needed
a redo in terms of how we design them, specifically addressing the eventuality that their end
of life needed to be revisited a little bit. The “end life” is why plastic products
have to be separated into different streams to be recycled in different ways. The polymers will respond different to heat
during the recycling process. Hence the various numbers you see on the bottom
of the containers—and even then, not all plastics with the same number can be recycled
together. Most commercial plastics contain lots of extras,
or additives, like dyes and ingredients to make them stronger or more heat-resistant. These additives are very difficult to remove
from the plastic, making it hard to recycle just the plastic. Or the monomer building blocks, and the presence
of the additives can also make the resulting recycled plastic product unreliable and unpredictable. So, all of those additives end up becoming
associated with the plastic. That heterogeneity essentially makes it very,
very, very difficult to think about what to do with the plastic outside of grinding it
up into little pieces and trying to pelletize it with a bunch of other different plastics
that all have their own additives. But luckily, new innovations are leading to
plastics that could be infinitely recycled. The team at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab
has turned to a new kind of plastic called poly(diketoenamine) or PDK for short. PDKs are an interesting type of plastic that
differ from conventional plastics in that we
completely replaced the static covalent bonds that typically comprise… that make up the
polymer backbone and we replaced them with dynamic covalent bonds that allow you to do
a number of new things. Picture the bonds of a polymer in a traditional
plastic like a metal chain. To break down the plastic, you have to break
the links of the chain and then spend time and energy trying to re-form them, with the
addition of a lot of glue and maybe even some new metal. With a material like PDK, the links between
atoms in the polymer chain are actually reversible. Because they use dynamic bonds between monomers
called diketoenamines, which is a triketone and amine stuck together. You can just open ‘em up by dunking them
in an acid bath and separate them from their additives, ready to use the plastic again. And the end result is the fluffy powder that’s
actually the exact same plastic from the beginning of the process, it didn’t lose any of its
integrity in the recycling process! And the acid isn’t far from what researchers
already use in the lab. Honestly anything below a pH 1 could work,
but the final call was sulfuric acid and for a couple different reasons. Sulfuric acid as a result, because it’s
a byproduct of petroleum refining, is very, very inexpensive. So, acid is used to depolymerize PDKs and
in the course of depolymerizing PDKs and once you go through the full cycle of recycling
both the triketones and the amine monomers, you generate salty water. And this salty water can be recovered and
purified by reverse osmosis facilities. These types of facilities would be able to
also recover the water and recover the commodity value of the chemicals embodied by the salt
in the water as well. And so, I think that that sets up a landscape
for being able to do efficient resource recovery even while you’re doing PDK plastic, chemical
circularity. The hope is that PDK could pave the way for
plastic products that are infinitely recyclable in the same way that glass and metal are. While this material is still in its early
stages, the researchers are looking at how we could incorporate PDK into existing manufacturing
processes, experimenting with how it could be used in textiles, shoes, and food packaging. And I think what we need to do is figure out
of the sustainability challenges that we have in specific markets, where are those best
solved by this particular plastic? And in solving that, do we also identify what
might be needed to advance the next design that is also circular. Which is essential, because in 2015, the U.S.
actually only recycled 9% of its generated plastics. The rest goes to landfills, is incinerated,
or apparently makes its way to the ocean. Over 13 million metric tonnes of plastic end
up in the ocean each year, so unless we want to lose our oceans and be buried under mountains
of trash à la Wall-E, something’s gotta give. This new material holds great promise for
modernizing our recycling world and making it more efficient, hopefully pushing toward
a world where plastic products are not only much more recyclable, but don’t end up in
a landfill or our oceans at all. If you’re interested in how plastics are
probably getting into your body through the food you’re eating, check this other video
here. Make sure to subscribe to Seeker to stay up-to-date
with world-changing materials science discoveries, and thanks for watching.

100 Comments

  1. Juan Ceballos said:

    And what about health?

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  2. Weicong Zhang said:

    Stop making plastic that the only way to make the world a better place, until then just keep buying and throwing it away

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  3. bibipeach66 said:

    I've seen cups made of corn and pencils made from recycled Jean pants. This was 7 years ago. I dont understand why we haven't adopted these ideas yet

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  4. refineme said:

    Just one word: Plastics.

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  5. M.Puntha Murugan said:

    What if we could create bricks from wasted plastics and use it to create houses?

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  6. Kinzie Burton said:

    All plastic is Infinitely recycle-able! Always was!

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  7. Fundemort Grey Prime Defender of Truth and Justice said:

    Scientists are the real saviors.

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  8. Michael Inglis said:

    What about mycelium! I work with it all the time! With a coating for strength it could easily have replaced Styrofoam and is completly organic. Stop making new options and use one of the hundreds of good options we already have!

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  9. Eric Weng said:

    Would it be feasible to use plastic to help agriculture/forests? Their combustion consumes oxygen and generates water and carbon dioxide, so that seems perfect for plants.

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  10. Cameras and camcorders Frank said:

    how expensive is it

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  11. tammy JerkChicken said:

    So how do you put pressure on business’ and governments to implement things like this? Or consumers?

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  12. jacinto cuellar said:

    And people complaining about these things not being in commerce. Then, ask yourself… shouldn't we just stop being frantic consumers??? Plastics are in every single thing we buy or sell. Just conscious individuals could save the world, not goverments or laws or big enterprises. We are the ones who tie our lives to a suicide consumers cycle

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  13. Eugene Son said:

    just use glass and pulp

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  14. Whole Food Plant-Based Man said:

    I have not watched Seeker in a very long time ever since Trace was bullshitting about meat. Also, Amanda Deisler is hot.

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  15. DeadPan said:

    Created but will never be used :/

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  16. Mizan said:

    This will make the plastic problem worst

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  17. Efren Plaza said:

    Unless they are bio degradable it will be the same. There will always be a recycleable plastic in the ocean.

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  18. Trevyn Case said:

    Well, it’ll be interesting to check back in 10 years to find out whether or not it has replaced our existing plastics. If it does, I doubt it’ll be making too many headlines, problems being quietly solved over decades don’t make headlines like problems and overnight revolutions do.

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  19. Abdul Khalik Kamaal said:

    The answer to the massive plastic waste problem is NOT MORE PLASTIC. You can't trust humans to recycle all of it, a significant fraction would still end up in places it shouldn't be.

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  20. h7opolo said:

    this video was uploaded on the same day i made a video about the unsustainability of plastics as a function of capitalism at the expense of all life.
    plastic has great uses, but should never be confused with being "disposable" unless those same companies intend to properly remanufacture the waste that they manufactured to produce.
    hold the plastic producers accountable for their lies. reduce your dependence on "disposable plastic", and reuse materials as much as possible. let's turn this problem on its head.

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  21. Human Bean said:

    What happened to those edible 6 pack rings from yeaaaaaaaars back? Yeah that’s what I thought. Stop blowing smoke up our asses

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  22. gabriella hong said:

    This is the answer to plastic straws.

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  23. Kenneth Zartman said:

    So how is this more efficient from returnable glass bottles with a return price added to the cost? I used to pick up bottles thrown out as a kid for some quick money, you can thank my generation for allowing the companies to do away with that….

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  24. jc1982discovery said:

    Fantastic news, If only we could do that with all the plastic currently in the world, already…

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  25. Dalton T said:

    …but what's going to actually keep it out of landfills and oceans? If 9% of plastic is recycled now in the US, 91% of PDK would still find it's way to the oceans and landfills.

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  26. Hiroshi Dai said:

    Woof

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  27. Omar AlSadoon said:

    Is it me or is the presenter's way of speaking weird. I feel it is very hard to follow up.

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  28. Christopher Morgan said:

    why not try to find a way to break down the bonds of the current plastic and save our planet

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  29. Kim in Alaska said:

    Lol, a hundred years ago it was cellulose only bad part was it burns better than gasoline.

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  30. SKIP AD said:

    wouldn't it be useless for products that have higher acidities like lemons, vinegar, and the like to be stored up to this kind of plastic?

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  31. Huawei sucks sheisse said:

    Those materials are already here. People just don't give a shit, especially in Asia. Degradable plastic is the way to go, not recycling.

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  32. Huawei sucks sheisse said:

    The only solution is a mode of recovery that generates profit. Then the problem is over.

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  33. rgerber said:

    Yes the problem is not the backbone of the polymer but the industry

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  34. Novia CatNopBleu said:

    Rock era made buildings, metal era made tools, steam/industrial era made machines, glass era made gorrilla glass, next plastic era
    These

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  35. BASS NINJA said:

    Does it cause cancer?

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  36. Benjamin Browning said:

    I love it when you talk you should do every episode!

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  37. Cuban Rider said:

    You lost me at PDK, we all know PDK means Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe.

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  38. pro126 said:

    Background music during the entire video is just annoying

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  39. Stefano Consiglio said:

    Id hit. Wasnt…sure…. But now i am

    June 9, 2019
    Reply
  40. Micah Barbee said:

    THIS NEW PDK BULLSHIT BETTER NOT AFFECT MY FOOD!

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  41. ramos1258 said:

    Good cause things can be reused. Bad because trump supporters are not educated enough to understand and will throw it into oceans. Can’t fix stupid.

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  42. Yoda Man said:

    in the meantime lets start using more hemp based items.

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  43. Tom Kelly said:

    incineration is the best solution. We need highly regulated incinerators that produce clean burns and capture or transmute all of the nasty byroducts, like Sweden and Japan do

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  44. Ryben Flynn said:

    Whatever happened to the biodegradable plastics?

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  45. Anime Banz said:

    And who will recycle it?
    The best way to deal with plastic is to incinerate it. Yes this adds carbon to the atmosphere, which you need to offset by using more renewable/nuclear energy and public transport.

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  46. Ron Brideau said:

    The whole dump is efficiently recyclable. Solar cracker and distillation tower producing pure raw resources separated into each molecule type.

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  47. Diabolical said:

    0:47 someone teach this guy how to use both his hands

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  48. Pedro Torres said:

    Nice cute dream, the problem is that people don't recycle. The problem is consumerism. So, wish as you may, the solution is educating people, not new materials.

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  49. Sourav Goswami said:

    Low quality video call… Very annoying.

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  50. DarkZerol said:

    Places like India and Canada seriously need to replace all their plastic based import and export goods with this.

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  51. dragon rebel said:

    clean up the mess you already made of OUR world First !!!!!! then we can talk about what you think you can do

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  52. kk N said:

    Please give us another option than plastic forget about recycling instead replace plastic with biodegradable material maybe silk or cotton I don't know but sorry to say this but LET'S STOP THIS PLASTIC AND FIND SOME OTHER SOURCE

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  53. DevotionsVisage said:

    Hemp plastic or nothing!!

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  54. RubberDucky said:

    How much does this new plastic cost?

    That's always the barrier to commercialization. If the cost is low enough to be reasonable, a new environmentally minded government coming in 2020 could require plastic manufacturers to use this new plastic wherever its viable.

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  55. mahmood qazi said:

    NO THANKS
    JUST GET RID OF IT
    THIS IS A NEW WAY FOR COMPANIES TO SHOVE SHIT IN THIS WORLD JUST TO PROFIT A PENNY OR TWO

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  56. Skinnymarks said:

    would this increase the problem of microplastics or would recycling be so valuable that it would minimize plastic in the environment?

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  57. FamJam Kev said:

    It won't change unless this is cheaper than just throwing away plastic. Everything in our world is based on monetary value. We value a piece of paper above all else. It's human greed, you can't fix that.
    It's never enough. We always want more and we always want the next best thing. We can do plenty to save the world but money is always the limiting factor. We would rather trade paper than save lives. It's been this way for thousands of years.

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  58. ; p said:

    Problem is that they are greedy, they don't want to sell it cheap

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  59. Lucas Medina D'Abate said:

    She reminds me of Olivia from scishow a lot

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  60. Fush Umang said:

    I wish this episode has more graphics of the chemical bonds

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  61. crazycutz said:

    oh boy.. it does not help making a new type of plastic… we need to get rid of the plastic.. not get more.

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  62. Maverick Hannoun said:

    Would be hard to introduce that kind of plastic if it is not resilient to acid, i mean we find acidic compound litterally EVERYWHERE, so making packaging out of that would be hard, and even if it worked, it would be used only for specific "non acidic product" which are a very small part of the plastic that could be replaced.

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  63. Rage Girl said:

    I honestly think even if the whole world recycles it is not going to help the problem of us having way too much plastic, also only about 8% of plastic is recycled. Yes recycling can help diminish the problem, but it is not enough to help our environment. It is hard to get all of the plastic wastes from our water, so I think is is better to not use plastic at all. I hope many more people would do that, it can start small and will later become big. If you are taking out food, ask them first what are they using to store your food, if they plastic ask for alternatives. If they do not have alternatives and you choose not to take their products, this will raise awareness to those people who are in control and thus they will use more eco friendly products. I don’t know if it is the best solution, but I do hope the people leading the science world can find a good solution soon.

    June 10, 2019
    Reply
  64. Eugenio Diaz said:

    oh you mean glass? of course! what? no? you mean more plastic ….

    June 11, 2019
    Reply
  65. Larisa Pearson said:

    We dont need plastic

    June 11, 2019
    Reply
  66. Emmanuel Mendoza said:

    How long does this new kind of plastic take to breakdown when it's not recycled? I'm curious how it compares to other plastics.

    June 11, 2019
    Reply
  67. m.e said:

    Porsche will not like the shortcut "PDK" 🙂

    June 11, 2019
    Reply
  68. David Colman said:

    Sounds good but will never happen.

    June 11, 2019
    Reply
  69. cjfletcher325 said:

    Sounds interesting. Sounds massively expensive to get started. Biodegradable is still the most essential by far.

    June 11, 2019
    Reply
  70. Chris Wright said:

    I like how there's the actual researcher and scientist telling you the logic behind the new polymer and then the chick talking slowly trying to dumb it down.

    June 11, 2019
    Reply
  71. Neu bornchild said:

    Can u do a video about those bacterias or microbes who’s been eating oil leekage waste in the ocean? thank uu

    June 11, 2019
    Reply
  72. Sam Brown said:

    Remember people, just because something is infinitely recyclable doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a huge biodegradable decomposition time, or is anywhere near the “wonder material” seeker is calling it. Aluminium is infinitely recyclable but we don’t see supermarket bags made from aluminium. Peace ✌️

    June 11, 2019
    Reply
  73. Dani Manrique M. said:

    So you're saying here scientists invented the Gold of plastics? Cool! We need to go back a few steps and produce more friendly with nature things like those edible spoons :3

    June 12, 2019
    Reply
  74. Alejandra Arciniegas said:

    Yeah! Sulfuric Acid! Just more poisoning! So cheap and easy! Of course this great promise doesn't talk about microplastic poisoning, and the what if the package doesn't end up in its so brilliant infinite recycling. Research on vegetable fibers and fungi are more realistic on addressing the problem from the root. No science can guarantee that a disposable packaging won't end up its cycle in a whales stomach or poisoning birds. For the ones who don't care about about whales or birds, water gets everything and and so do humans in every drop you drink, even in the air you breathe.

    Fungi is the solution. https://youtu.be/jnMXH5TqqG8

    This is what happens when human science gets excited about the forever https://youtu.be/YgVyPwhkoJs

    Can science one day accept that is unnaceptable to create something convenient for humans which even in a little amount contaminates? My right to breathe clean air, drink pure water (without microplastic), enjoy wildlife seems just a fantasy. Even when going to the forests I find plastic. How naive to claim that another kind of plastic is the solution. Are these scientist really following the scientific method rigorously? This hypothesis is crossing out the undenianble fact that plastic has prove to be just like nuclear waste. A laboratory destructive creation in the name a cause that absolutely oposite to the well being of humanity. Solutions have been created. Unfortunately, without political integrity getting rid of plastics is an utopy. The challenge is not scientific anymore. It's about power and industries lack of responsability in this matter. Cancer guaranteed.

    June 12, 2019
    Reply
  75. Graham McDonald said:

    I can’t help but think that a plastic that is biodegradable would be better!

    June 12, 2019
    Reply
  76. Y J said:

    How long before we find out if this is a carcinogen or creates DNA defects.

    June 12, 2019
    Reply
  77. Krosskaos said:

    That sounds great and all, but the core issue here is not as much the fact that plastics as they are now are hard enough to recycle, but the fact that most people tend to just throw recyclables away. So you would have to solve that issue as well, or at least find a way to alleviate it. Maybe incentivize recycling somehow? Find a way to effectively and efficiently separate this plastic from trash? Whatever the solution, people are going to need to change their recycling habits to make such a change happen.

    June 13, 2019
    Reply
  78. prerana sinha said:

    Please make video on how close are we to build iron-man arc reactor

    June 13, 2019
    Reply
  79. Zulfakhri Sa'adi said:

    Heard this many times…didnt see it at all

    June 14, 2019
    Reply
  80. MOONLIGHT SHADOW said:

    Lots of people complaining about plastic stuff… A few years ago most people were drinking water out of plastic drink containers…because it was the thing to do at the time. Same as takeaway coffee cups. Shopping bags from the supermarket. Plastic wrap from your internet purchase. We are all to blame in the long run. You guys and girls and me too. You'd think if they wanted to do something about the so called plastic problem… They would have done it by now. But no… Plastic products are still a very important part of life…

    June 14, 2019
    Reply
  81. Die Potato said:

    Recycling is old news I mean if this could help a little bit that’s good but we need to be reducing and replacing. I don’t know the full solve honestly.

    June 14, 2019
    Reply
  82. Jeremy Owens said:

    Okay, but how long does it take to degrade?
    How does that change the fact people don't recycle? Is this going to encourage people to recycle more? Probably not.
    Would it stop plastic from entering bodies of water and harming wildlife? I don't see how.
    I think we need to spend more time and funding researching alternatives to plastic and just move away from it entirely.

    June 14, 2019
    Reply
  83. karen the fitness instructor said:

    We need biodegradable materials because we will never get everybody to recycle!! Of course this is an upgrade but we NEED biodegradable if we want to save the oceans and the earth

    June 14, 2019
    Reply
  84. Phil said:

    I can't help but notice that nearly all her sentences? Sound like questions? Is she telling us information? Or asking us questions?

    June 15, 2019
    Reply
  85. Chris Shipman said:

    Of course it's all the fault of the USA, this video simply ignores the pollution of China and India.

    June 15, 2019
    Reply
  86. peruface said:

    about damn time, now make it a law to only use this material asap

    June 15, 2019
    Reply
  87. GorillaGluu said:

    Hope this is going to be taking over the plastic industry asap! Ill keep my eye on this

    June 16, 2019
    Reply
  88. WHYYOUSMILINGWHENYOURNEXT? huh? said:

    Sounds like more jobs for homeless

    June 18, 2019
    Reply
  89. Legion said:

    We need to bring it into the production ASAP.

    June 21, 2019
    Reply
  90. John Teasdale said:

    Use hemp ya nutters

    June 21, 2019
    Reply
  91. Nagaraju Chukkala said:

    I hate the narrator's voice modulation at the end of each statement

    June 23, 2019
    Reply
  92. jordana309 said:

    What's the time frame for this to make it to a market?

    June 25, 2019
    Reply
  93. Mns M said:

    This won't work because a certain portion of the plastic produced doesn't get recycled and ends up in the oceans and elsewhere. Invent biodegradable material.

    June 29, 2019
    Reply
  94. Nelson Gonzalez said:

    9% of plastics are recycled in the USA? That’s horrendous! Folks really need to wake up and take recycling and the effects on the environment i.e. climate change, seriously! One planet folks, that’s it.

    July 2, 2019
    Reply
  95. Jinxed said:

    This has been clearly here for some time now (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXklBP53VT4).
    Where is it today? Ah yes…,

    the corporate whores are still in power.

    July 3, 2019
    Reply
  96. no way said:

    I thought we already did that, youknow recycling

    July 14, 2019
    Reply
  97. Gautam Kumar said:

    Thinking of WALL-E like future for humans gives me nightmares. Sadly it is highly probable.

    July 21, 2019
    Reply
  98. Marcos Zarate said:

    We have the fuckin technology MONEY to make experiment into outer space, make weapons, cars, pay athletes and celebrities a shit load of MONEY but we don't have the talent, time or MONEY to find a way of curing this plastic epidemic. Kind of weird NO?!!!

    August 14, 2019
    Reply
  99. wim van meirvenne said:

    Wach George Carlin comment on plastic?

    August 20, 2019
    Reply
  100. Tam Le said:

    there are plastic bag that can biodegrade quicker and there are machine that can turn plastic into the petroleum oil they are made out of.

    September 8, 2019
    Reply

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