Recycling of multilayer plastic packaging materials by solvent-targeted recovery and precipitation

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Science Advances  20 Nov 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 47, eaba7599
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba7599


Many plastic packaging materials manufactured today are composites made of distinct polymer layers (i.e., multilayer films). Billions of pounds of these multilayer films are produced annually, but manufacturing inefficiencies result in large, corresponding postindustrial waste streams. Although relatively clean (as opposed to municipal wastes) and of near-constant composition, no commercially practiced technologies exist to fully deconstruct postindustrial multilayer film wastes into pure, recyclable polymers. Here, we demonstrate a unique strategy we call solvent-targeted recovery and precipitation (STRAP) to deconstruct multilayer films into their constituent resins using a series of solvent washes that are guided by thermodynamic calculations of polymer solubility. We show that the STRAP process is able to separate three representative polymers (polyethylene, ethylene vinyl alcohol, and polyethylene terephthalate) from a commercially available multilayer film with nearly 100% material efficiency, affording recyclable resins that are cost-competitive with the corresponding virgin materials.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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