The big problem with plastics is that though they last for a very long time, most are thrown away after only one use. Since plastics were invented in the 1950s, about 8,300m metric tonnes (Mt) have been made, but over half (4,900 Mt) is already in landfill or has been lost to the environment. In 2010 alone, an estimated 4.8 to 12.7 Mt went into the oceans.
Only a small proportion of the hundreds of types of plastics can be recycled by conventional technology. But there are other things we can do to reuse plastics after they’ve served their original purpose. My research, for example, focuses on chemical recycling, and I’ve been looking into how food packaging can be used to create new materials like wires for electricity.