Useful and infinitely malleable, plastics are ubiquitous in modern life. They are also a mixed blessing.
Plastic detritus litters landscapes and befouls the oceans, and Americans are estimated to ingest about nine ounces of microplastics a year. The U.S. annually generates about 280 pounds of plastics per capita. Despite all the earnest sorting by householders, only about 9 percent of plastics is actually recycled, while 16 percent is incinerated. The remaining 75 percent is landfilled, accounting for 12.2 percent of municipal solid waste.
But there is reason for optimism that we can have unproblematic plastics.
One of the biggest obstacles to recycling current plastics is that they are usually mixed with dyes, adhesives, and metals that make isolating the plastics energy-intensive and expensive. Most current plastics also become increasingly brittle as they get recycled, which is why it’s much cheaper to manufacture virgin plastics out of fossil fuels. Fortunately, several research groups and companies are developing and deploying more r
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