The Department of Energy is investing $13.4 million in seven research and development projects that will explore next generation plastics technologies. The funding will support programs that aim to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions that are associated with single-use plastics, including plastic development and reducing plastic waste. The projects will focus on converting plastic films into materials that can more easily biodegrade and on finding designs that can be more easily recycled.
“Single-use plastics generate large amounts of carbon pollution when produced, are hard to recycle, and dirty our nation’s beaches, parks and neighborhoods,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “By advancing technologies that repurpose single-use plastics and make the materials biodegradable, we can hit a trifecta of reduced plastic waste, fewer emissions from the plastics industry, and an influx of clean manufacturing jobs for American workers.”
The types of plastics these projects will explore include energy-intensive, thin plastic bags, wraps, and films. DOE reports that plastic production accounts for over 3% of total U.S. energy consumption.
Recycling many single-use plastics has also proved difficult. Under 1% of plastics are currently recycled, and those that are are “downcycled,” which means they are made into low-value products, rather than “upcycled,” which instead converts single-use plastics into more valuable materials that are more recyclable and biodegradable.