Plastic pollution poses a major environmental challenge, yet finding effective solutions to degrade this resilient material has proven challenging. Nevertheless, a promising technological advancement may greatly enhance our ability to address this issue.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have delved into the realm of pyrolysis, a process capable of chemically transforming plastic into more valuable substances. This study aimed to identify the optimal conditions for maximizing the potential of pyrolysis.
Giannis Mpourmpakis, an associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt, expressed the promise of pyrolysis, noting its cost-effectiveness and capacity to yield high-value products. He emphasized its practicality as a solution to plastic waste in a report featured on ScienceDaily.
Mpourmpakis and Hyunguk Kwon, a former postdoc at Pitt who currently holds a position at Seoul National University, pioneered a “computational framework” designed to generate thermochemistry data. This data serves as a guide for achieving the most efficient conditions for breaking down plastic through pyrolysis.
Mpourmpakis also highlighted the importance of finding sustainable solutions for plastic recycling and reuse due to the expected ongoing increase in plastic production. The study reflects a significant step toward mitigating plastic waste’s environmental impact.
The United Nations Environment Programme reports that humans produce around 441 million tons of plastic waste annually, and a staggering 7.7 billion tons of plastic waste have been generated globally thus far. Shockingly, only 10% of this enormous figure has been recycled.
Moreover, UNEP highlights that 98% of single-use plastics are manufactured using environmentally damaging energy sources, resulting in significant carbon pollution when incinerated, which further contributes to global warming.
If we can enhance and scale up the pyrolysis process, it has the potential to address this critical issue by substantially reducing plastic waste and enhancing the well-being of humans, flora, and fauna.
Plastics contain hazardous chemicals that can jeopardize water and land ecosystems, and the proliferation of microplastics is increasingly pervasive, posing a threat to organisms that can ingest them through inhalation, ingestion, or drinking.
According to UNEP, there is significant evidence linking plastics-related chemicals such as methyl mercury, plasticizers, and flame retardants to health concerns as they can enter the body.
The research conducted by Mpourmpakis and Kwon is poised to make valuable contributions to improving the efficiency of plastic recycling, a matter of utmost importance for the future of our planet.