In observance of Independence Day, we are closed on Thursday, July 4, 2024.

Discover a groundbreaking method turning plastic waste into valuable materials. Could this be America’s answer to the recycling crisis?

America grapples with an overwhelming plastic waste problem, given the mere 9% recycling rate for such materials. But a recent breakthrough might be the silver lining the nation has been seeking. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison have introduced a technique that might just give plastics a valuable second life.

This novel approach turns plastics into starting materials for other products, churning out chemicals with potential applications in numerous industries. Using what's termed the cobalt-catalyzed reaction, the scientists were able to derive aldehydes, which were subsequently transformed into alcohols and diols.

According to Environmental Leader


Houqian Li, affiliated with the University of Wisconsin–Madison's Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, said, “This route produces high-value oxygenated chemicals from low-value postconsumer recycled polyethylene.” The promising aspect? “We project that the chemicals produced by this route could lower greenhouse gas emissions by around 60% compared to production through petroleum feedstocks.”

The team's discoveries, recently published in the reputable journal Science, come at a critical juncture. As global scrutiny on the U.S.'s lackluster recycling performance intensifies, adopting this method could provide the country a chance to catch up to international standards. For context, the European Union aims to recycle a commendable 30% of its plastic waste.

The American public's discontent with the dismal recycling rates is palpable. This has spurred calls for governments to innovate and adopt strategies that not only enhance recycling but also curb environmental degradation.

Kevin M. Van Geem, a researcher from Ghent University in Belgium, emphasizes a paradigm shift in our perspective on plastics. In a note in Science, he said, “Therefore, a plastics circular economy, where new, top-quality plastics are crafted from plastic waste, is gaining traction. Plastics should be viewed not as waste but valuable assets.”

If the findings from the University of Wisconsin–Madison can be scaled and integrated, it's plausible that the recycling sector could soon usher in an era where plastic waste is transformed into useful products like alcohols, surfactants, and even detergents.

Samira is an Electronics and Communications Engineer by profession, but deep inside, her heart is a nomad! She's a state champion debater, a public speaker, a scriptwriter, a theater actress, but most importantly — A GREEN CITIZEN! She thinks of herself as a storyteller who thrives on enjoying the life at fullest and telling everyone the tales of life.

Subscribe to
our newsletter