Unveiling the Polyester Recycling a Big Breakthrough : The Power of Heat, Salt, and Solvent

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Researchers have found a way to recycle polyester, one of the most widely used but environmentally unfriendly materials. Their new approach is straightforward, safe for both people and the environment, and best of all, it maintains the integrity of the cotton taken from the cloth so that it may be reused.

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Polyester Fashion

In the 1970s, polyester received a poor rap, mostly because it was utilized to create some hideous “fashion.” Though trends may have improved, polyester, the second-most popular textile in the world, is now more widely recognized for its negative effects on the environment.

The fabric’s advantages are its durability, light weight, resistance to dampness, rapid drying, and ease of cleaning. The negative is that producing a blend of cotton and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) requires the use of fossil fuels and generates a lot of carbon dioxide. And after you’re done wearing it, the majority of polyester ends up in a landfill where it doesn’t decompose (at least not quickly), rather than being recycled.

Polyester

Now, scientists from the University of Copenhagen may have found a solution to the polyester issue by creating a straightforward, environmentally friendly method of recycling the product.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen assert that by combining heat, a common salt used in baking, and a mild solvent, they have created a novel and surprisingly easy method for separating polyester-cotton mixes.

Polyester

Statement of researcher

Yang Yang, the study’s principal author, stated that the textile industry urgently needs a new way to handle blended materials like polyester/cotton. There are currently relatively few practical ways to recycle both cotton and plastic; most often, it’s either-or. However, utilizing our recently developed process, we are able to recover cotton while also depolymerizing polyester into its monomers on a scale of hundreds of grams in a very simple and green manner.

The revolutionary technique just needs three components: heat, a non-toxic solvent, and hartshorn salt, also known as ammonium carbonate, a substance used in baking.

Polyester

Result after research

Result

Shriaya Sharma, a co-author of the study, said, “For instance, we can take a polyester clothing, break it up into small pieces, and throw it in a container. Hartshorn salt, which is frequently used as a leavening agent in baked goods, should then be added, followed by a tiny amount of a moderate solvent. After that, we heat everything to 160 °C (320 °F) and let it sit for 24 hours. As a result, layers of plastic and cotton fibers have formed in the liquid. It’s an easy and economical approach.

Ammonium bicarbonate decomposes into ammonia, carbon dioxide, and water when heated. Ammonia and carbon dioxide work as a catalyst to trigger a reaction that selectively depolymerizes plastic while leaving cotton intact. Ammonia is poisonous on its own, but when combined with carbon dioxide, it becomes harmless to both people and the environment.

The researchers investigated the addition of hartshorn salt after learning that carbon dioxide might be employed as a catalyst to degrade nylon and were pleasantly surprised by the outcomes.

“At first, we were excited to see it work so well on the PET bottle alone,” said Carlo Di Bernado, a co-author of the study. Then, when we realized that it also worked on polyester cloth, we were overjoyed. It was beyond words. It was almost too amazing to be true how simple it was to accomplish.

The researchers are looking for organizations to adopt their technology even though they have only tested it in the lab up to this point. They are highlighting its scalability as a selling feature.

We want to make this technology, which has so much potential, commercially available, Yang said. “Keeping this information within the confines of the university would be a huge waste.”

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