(ORDO NEWS) — Millions of tons of plastic are polluting the Earth, and now UC Riverside chemists are one step closer to finding a use for them.
They created a method to convert plastic waste into a highly porous form of charcoal that can be used as valuable fertilizer.
Over the past decade, humanity has produced more plastic than in the entire 20th century, and most of it is disposable items such as bags, shoe covers, dishes and hygiene items.
Only five percent of the plastic produced is recycled and reused, the rest most often ends up in landfills at best.
Most plastics take years, if not centuries, to naturally break down, so researchers are constantly looking for ways to make plastic recycling cost-effective in order to reduce pollution.
One such method was proposed by chemists from the University of California at Riverside (USA): they mixed plastic waste with corn-growing waste – straw, empty cobs, and others – and then turned the resulting mixture into charcoal using hydrothermal carbonization.
For the experiment, scientists chose two common types of plastic: polystyrene (most often used to make disposable tableware, such as yogurt cups) and polyethylene terephthalate, or PET (used in the production of plastic bottles).
Each of them was separately mixed with corn waste and treated with water at a temperature of 180 degrees Celsius under high pressure.
As a result, the researchers obtained a highly porous charcoal with a colossal surface area of about 400 square meters per gram of mass.
This substance can be added to the soil for better moisture retention and aeration, and can also be used as a fertilizer to increase the carbon content of the soil.
Previously, the researchers had already made activated carbon using only corn waste and potassium hydroxide, and now they plan to test whether it is possible to obtain a substance suitable for making water filters from a mixture of corn and plastic.
However, even if unrecycled plastic particles prevent turning such charcoal into activated charcoal, charcoal still has many uses – many more than plastic trash lying on the ocean.
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