A plastic-like material which can be recycled “infinitely” has been discovered by scientists.
The polymer is lightweight, heat resistant and strong but, unlike conventional plastic, can be repeatedly converted back to its original state, according to research published in journal Science.
The discovery could mark a step forward in the search for more sustainable materials to compete with plastic.
Polymers are a broad class of materials, made up of long chains of chemically bonded molecules, and plastics are an example of synthetic polymers.
The new polymer, discovered by researchers from Colorado State University in the US, can be chemically reverted back to its small-molecule state.
The researchers said this can be done in lab conditions and that it can then be made back into a polymer in an environmentally friendly way, without needing to be purified.
Lead researcher Professor Eugene Chen, from the department of chemistry, said: “The polymers can be chemically recycled and reused, in principle infinitely.”
The properties of most conventional plastics deteriorate after they have been recycled multiple times but the researchers said the new material could be used again and again.
However, the new polymer technology has only been demonstrated in a lab setting.
The researchers said more work would be needed for it to be produced on a larger scale.
Prof Chen said: “It would be our dream to see this chemically recyclable polymer technology materialise in the marketplace.”