Email Print Share

"Re-Makable" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 641-552-8180 on any telephone.

In recent years, environmentally friendly materials to replace plastics have become a focus for chemists, and the discovery of a new polymer by Colorado State University could be just what they've been looking for. The material has the same characteristics of plastics that we enjoy -- for example, light weight, heat resistance and durability -- but it can be converted back to a small-molecule state for complete chemical recyclability.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Not so -- plastic.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

In the future, it's likely that the items we now make out of plastic will be made of a polymer that's a lot more environmentally friendly. Chemists at Colorado State University have taken another major step toward waste-free, sustainable materials that have the desirable qualities of conventional plastics, but are completely and infinitely recyclable.

The team previously demonstrated a chemically recyclable polymer in 2015, but it wasn't practical for industrial use. The current material they've developed fixes that. It looks and acts like typical plastic, but can be easily taken back to its chemical starting point, to be used over and over. Can't do that with conventional plastics. The material has a constant life cycle -- polymer to monomer and back to polymer -- without the use of toxic chemicals or intensive lab procedures and no hanging around in landfills for the next 500 years.

There is still work being done to perfect the material and the process the team has come up with. Things like scalability and cost-effectiveness. But they've got a patent pending and hope someday to bring it into general use in a variety of applications.

Creating an infinite life cycle for the materials we use. You know, "ashes to ashes, polymer to monomer" (Sound effect: fading out as spoken) to polymer to monomer, to polymer to monomer.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

Also Available:
Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (66.6 KB)

Use your mouse to right-click (Mac users may need to Ctrl-click) the link above and choose the option that will save the file or target to your computer.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.