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Discovery Report
The future of
plastic
Illustration by Chris Gash

Plastic is everywhere because few materials match its versatility. Glass, aluminum, and cardboard are single products with comparatively limited applications. When it comes to reuse, however, the homogeneity of those materials is advantageous. According to 2017 data from the Environmental Protection Agency, the US recycled just 8.4% of the 32 billion kg of plastic that consumers threw away. That pales in comparison to the recycling rates for glass (26.6%), metal (33.3%), and paper (65.9%). And the trend in recent years is discouraging; the US’s plastic recycling rate in 2015 was 9.1%. If chemistry helped get the world into this mess, surely it can help get us out. But what developing strategies could complement traditional recycling? And what roadblocks stand in the way of scaling them?

This Discovery Report delves into chemical recycling technologies. Inside, you’ll hear from heavy hitters in the packaging industry, experts in depolymerization and pyrolysis, the scientists sounding the alarm about plastics’ impact on our ecosystems, and many more.

Correction: The Q1 2020 Discovery Report was corrected on March 27, 2020, to add a byline for the article "How Compatibilizers and Other Additives Could Help Virgin and Recycled Plastic Work Together." The author is Prachi Patel.


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