New Process Allows ‘Nonrecyclable’ Plastics to be Reused in Common Applications

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A new process could cut down on the amount of plastics buried in landfills. The idea: Convert some types that can’t be recycled into a type that can be heated and then reformed.

Of the more than 35.4 million tons of plastic produced each year in the United States, the share that gets recycled “is relatively small,” the Environmental Protection Agency finds — just 8.4 percent as of 2017. More than one-third, it adds, eventually ends up sent to landfills as waste.

Plastics can take hundreds of years to degrade, or break down chemically. And when buried in landfills, they take up valuable space. Other plastic wastes end up in the oceans, streams and other waterways. There they break apart into tiny particles, called microplastics. Some contain harmful additives. Microplastics also can provide a surface for other pollutants and microbes to cling to. And those plastic bits can build up in some animals, too.