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Environment

The incredible new tech that can recycle all plastics, forever

"Advanced recycling" promises to convert dirty, mixed waste plastic into brand new plastic time and time again. It is a major step towards creating a circular economy and fighting climate change

By Graham Lawton

22 April 2024

RGY487 Used plastic crushed, Prepared to be re-melted into recycled plastic pellets

Satakorn Sukontakajonkul/Alamy

I spend an inordinate amount of time in my kitchen scrutinising pieces of plastic, trying to discern whether they are recyclable or not. If they are, they go into a bag alongside glass, cans, cardboard and paper. If not, or if I am unsure, I put them in a plastic bag (non-recyclable) and shove it into the cupboard under the stairs. My intention is to deposit it in a container for non-recyclable plastics in a nearby supermarket. But the road to landfill is paved with good intentions. Sometimes I get exasperated and just end up chucking it.

Whether my obsessive sorting actually makes any difference, I don’t know. I hope the recyclables do end up being recycled. As for the other stuff, which makes up about half of my plastic waste, I have no idea of its fate. I presume it is called “non-recyclable” for a reason.

Hopefully, I soon won’t have to waste any more of my precious time triaging this type of waste. A suite of “advanced recycling” technologies is gradually coming on stream, promising to take used plastic of any type and convert it into something extremely useful: plastic. The goal is to create a circular economy for this material where there is no longer any need to make virgin plastic from crude oil, just endlessly recycle what we already have. Plastic, rightly demonised as a scourge of the modern world, could be fantastic again.

There is plenty of it to work with. Since the 1950s, we have produced over 10 billion tonnes…

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