New type of plastic can be recycled indefinitely without quality loss

Berkeley Lab scientists have announced the development of a new plastic that can be recycled many times over again, including in different shapes and colors, without experiencing quality loss. According to an announcement from the lab, the new material is called poly(diketoenamine), aka PDK, and it can be broken down at the molecular level for reassembly into new things.

Recycling reusable materials is a key effort in reducing resource consumption and waste, but currently available materials make that difficult. At this time, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the most recyclable plastic, but around 70- to 80-percent of it ends up in landfills or incinerators.

Recycling existing plastics is problematic due to the use of additives, such as dyes for color and flame retardants. As a result, most plastics cannot be recycled entirely — there's always some degree of loss, whether in how the plastic looks or how well it performs. The newly announced PDK plastic is different.

According to Berkeley National Laboratory, PDK plastic can be "disassembled into its constituent parts at the molecular level" — the lab describes this as being something like the deconstruction of a LEGO project back down into individual blocks. Once you have those blocks independent of the others, they can be used to craft an entirely new object.

When reassembled, the plastic can be given new textures, colors, and shapes, but without loss in its overall quality and performance. By dunking the recycled PDK plastics into an acidic solution, the plastic itself is freed from any additives that may be mixed in, leaving behind the plastic in its pure form for reuse.