What does depolymerisation of plastic and cleaning consist of?
In the UPLIFT project, the depolymerization and cleaning of plastics consist of the application of natural catalysts, called enzymes, for the breakdown of the material in their constitutive components. More specifically, plastics are long chains composed of small units called monomers, that can be easily compared to a pearl necklace. In the UPLIFT project, the aim is to cut the links between the single pearls, recover them as single units and rebuild the necklace creating new links between the units. In this way, a completely new necklace (or plastic in our case) is created in a zero-waste closed cycle where almost nothing goes to waste. This process doesn’t employ and toxic chemicals or solvents but focuses on bio-based catalysts (enzymes) and building blocks (monomers) and aims to produce biodegradable materials that are easy to be recycled when compared to nowadays petrol-based plastics.
What are the main challenges?
The main challenge of the project will be to recycle the fraction of the plastic waste where other substances such as cardboard and metals are present, the so-called multilayer materials. This fraction of the waste is nowadays stripped off the cardboard (its mayor component) with the leftovers that are sent to an incinerator for energy recovery. The UPLIFT project aims to efficiently separate and recover all fractions of these multilayer materials that could be then recycled using alternative, more environmentally friendly technologies.