Completely recyclable packaging materials

The scientists Haritz Sardón, Ainara Sangroniz and Agustin Etxeberria at the UPV/EHU’s Faculty of Chemistry, together with the researchers Eugene Y.- X. Chen, Jian-Bo Zhu and Xiaoyan Tang at Colorado State University (USA), have designed completely recyclable packaging materials that advance the roundabout economy for plastic bundling materials where design and creation completely conform to prerequisites relating to reuse, repair and reusing. Their study has been distributed as of late in Nature Communications and comprises a stage forward in taking care of the issue of plastic.

“Containers are needed to ensure the quality and safety of food,” focused on the scientist Haritz Sardón. “Containers protect the product from external agents and the requirements they generally have to meet are good mechanical properties (high ductility) and low permeability to gases and vapours, in other words, good barrier properties. In the packaging sector plastics are the most widely used materials owing to their good physical properties, lightness and low cost. Yet the lack of suitable recycling systems plus their non-degradable nature have led to their build-up in the environment, generating a huge problem.”

In the journey to take care of this issue, biodegradable materials have excited extraordinary interest. In the correct conditions these polymers corrupt to shape carbon dioxide, water, biomass, and so on. “Poly(lactic acid) is among the most promising biodegradable polymers. Yet its high rigidity plus its low barrier character mean that this material is inadequate for replacing commercial materials,” he clarified.

That records for the ongoing development in the significance of chemical reusing. “Once materials of this type reach the end of their useful service life,” the UPV/EHU researcher went on, “they can be recycled chemically and the original monomer or new monomers can be obtained. The monomer can be re-used to synthesise the material again. That avoids the generation of plastic waste.”

“This work explores two chemically recyclable homopolymers: poly(gamma-butyrolactone), which displays suitable mechanical properties, but high permeability to various gases and vapours. By contrast, poly(trans-hexahydrophthalide) displays the opposite properties: it is very rigid and has low permeability. So we opted to develop copolymers by combining both compounds/monomers. By varying their composition it was possible to synthesise materials with suitable mechanical and barrier properties that are better than biodegradable polymers and similar to commercial materials currently used in packaging,” he finished up.

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