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Swansea research team could turn tide on plastic waste

Swansea University find way to turn food packaging into materials for industry

 A research team from Swansea University are leading the fight against plastic waste.

They have found a way to recycle plastics commonly found in food packaging in to create new materials like wires for electricity .

This could help to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the future, as well as potentially creating jobs in our area.

Dr Alvin Orbaek White, a Fellow at the Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI) at Swansea University said Swansea is an obvious place to base this kind of research:

“In Wales we’re very fortunate to have a proactive government that has been making headway in terms of recycling.

“Swansea is one of the top five recycling cities in the whole of the UK so there’s a lot of expertise here in regard to the stream of materials that get recycled.

“I feel very fortunate to be in this location to do this type of work.”

While only a small proportion of the hundreds of types of plastics can be recycled by conventional technology, researchers found that there are other things that can be done to reuse plastics after they’ve served their original purpose.

The research, published in  The Journal for Carbon Research, focuses on chemical recycling which uses the constituent elements of the plastic to make new materials.

While all plastics are made of carbon, hydrogen and sometimes oxygen, the amounts and arrangements of these three elements make each plastic unique. As plastics are very pure and highly refined chemicals, they can be broken down into these elements and then bonded in different arrangements to make high value materials such as carbon nanotubes.

Dr Orbaek White:

“Nanotubes can be used to make a huge range of things, such as conductive films for touchscreen displays, flexible electronics fabrics that create energy, antennas for 5G networks while NASA has used them to prevent electric shocks on the Juno spacecraft.”

He believes the research could make a difference to the world:

“This is what you go to school to do. I’m really quite thrilled to have spent the time to develop the technologies, to develop the techniques, to develop the skill set so that when you turn your attention to a problem to find a solution it feels good."

And there’s good news for employment in the city too. The research team plan to make high purity carbon electrical cables using waste plastic materials so they are ready for large-scale deployment in the next three years.

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