Polyvinyl chloride or PVC is now a recyclable type of plastic after scientists at the University of Michigan discovered a way to chemically recycle the widely used material.

PVC is a heavy-duty type of plastic with a zero percent recycling rate in the United States, but that is expected to change after research by university chemists found a way to re-use one of its most noxious components. The material is one of the most produced plastics in the nation and the third highest by volume in the world.

The study of chemical recycling of PVC published last month in the journal Nature Chemistry. Former postdoctoral researcher Danielle Fagnani was the first author and U-M Chemistry Professor Anne McNeil was the principal investigator.

“PVC is the kind of plastic that no one wants to deal with because it has its own unique set of problems,” Fagnani said. “PVC usually contains a lot of plasticizers, which contaminate everything in the recycling stream and are usually very toxic. It also releases hydrochloric acid really rapidly with some heat.”

McNeil explained how plastic is typically recycled by melting it down to reform it into lower quality materials, a process called mechanical recycling. But when PVC is heated, one of its primary components, called plasticizers, leach out very easily – as well as hydrochloric acid.

Those toxic plasticizers can then slip into other plastics in the recycling stream, while the hydrochloric acid can corrode recycling equipment and even cause chemical burns to workers. The plasticizers are highly noxious endocrine disruptors, which means they can interfere with hormones in humans and other mammals.

For more information please visit: https://umich.edu

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