Department of Energy has $25m to tackle plastic recycling's biggest problem

The US Department of Energy (DoE) has earmarked $25 million to tackle some of plastic recycling's biggest problems. The agency has selected 10 research projects that involve putting plastic waste to good use as the recipients of the funding, explaining that it aims to not only reduce plastic garbage, but also recycle these waste products into "valuable products."

Existing plastic recycling efforts have been criticized as less than useful; though some plastics can be recycled, the resulting products are usually of inferior quality, meaning that eventually the plastics can no longer be put effectively to use. This, combined with the many companies and consumers who fail to recycle, has resulted in a huge mass of plastic waste.

According to the DoE, less than 15-percent of new plastics end up recycled, with the rest landing in the ocean, landfills, or burnt in incinerators. This not only contributes to the waste problem, but also makes it more expensive to produce new plastic materials. The department will use its $25 million to fund research into 'upcycling' plastic waste.

An example of upcycling would be transforming a piece of used plastic back into its original form rather than into a lesser plastic product that would be unsuitable for the original application. Likewise, a plastic upcycling program could turn the plastic waste into new, highly usable plastic materials for other applications.

Beyond that, the research projects will look into making the plastic recycling process more energy-efficient, reducing the quantity of fossil fuels that are used to incinerate waste and produce new materials. The 10 selected research projects come from various national labs, universities, and other similar entities.