Most of us adore gadgets. But our relationship has produced a monstrous love child. Electronic waste from discarded machines has quickly become a huge problem, the fastest growing type of rubbish we are facing. Thankfully, the EU has recognised the issue and funded a neat project with bold ambitions to clean up the mess.
The PolyCE project aims to develop an entirely new, eco-friendly type of plastic. Root and branch analysis of the situation and potential solutions, as well as some large scale trials of the new stuff should help it go mainstream.
In a nutshell, we want to make plastic more attractive so that recyclers grab it before it ends up on the nightmarish scrap heap bonfires of Africa and Asia. With millions of tonnes of the stuff flowing out of Europe, it is a worthy mission.
The four year project brings together academics, industry bigwigs and we at the European Environmental Bureau. The project will try and figure out why so little waste gets recycled and come up with ways to rescue more of for reuse. Part of the job is to come up with a quality grading system. That will pave the way for some exciting work by scientific boffins in the team, who will be developing novel additives to make plastic less toxic. It will reach out to design professionals and others to encourage them to use the stuff, and set up an online trading forum to push it too. Philips and Whirlpool are among the big players on board and they had pledged to add the new material into its consumer products.
There are obvious benefits here around reducing waste and toxic pollution. But it is worth flagging that the project will look to develop toxic-free flame retardants. These plastic additives are currently really nasty and causing havoc in the natural world. The scientists hope to be able to create clean alternatives that keep their properties through several rounds of recycling. Another interesting focus for the project is the growing field of 3D printing.
The four year EU-funded project started is set to conclude in summer 2021.