$1.7 million grant explores plastics problem

Feb. 18, 2022

The quest to recycle the unrecyclable

Spartan experts Shiwang Cheng, an assistant professor in the Chemical Engineering and Materials Science Department, and Huan Li, an assistant professor in the Department of Computational Mathematics, Science and Engineering, have teamed up on new plastics research at MSU.

Less than 10% of plastic waste is actually processed for reuse.
Less than 10% of plastic waste is actually processed for reuse. The rest ends up in landfills or pollution piles.

Thirty percent of plastic ends up in products that can’t be recycled even if collected. DOE is investing in Spartan research to help fix that.

The plastics problem, like onions, has layers. With a $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, Michigan State University’s Muhammad Rabnawaz is starting to peel away some of those problematic layers to make plastics more recyclable.

Rabnawaz’s grant is one of seven awarded by DOE, totaling $13.4 million, to reduce plastic waste and emissions from the plastics industry in the United States.

“I’m proud that Michigan’s academic and scientific communities continue to lead the world in research and cutting-edge innovation that has been invaluable in the fight to address climate change,” said U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan. “Michigan State University is a world-class institution — and I’m excited they will continue to spearhead efforts to reduce plastic waste and create more sustainable environments, making our communities even better places to work, live and raise a family.”

However dutiful Americans are about recycling, less than 10% of plastic waste is actually processed for reuse with the rest ending up in landfills or polluting the environment. One reason is that almost a third of plastics used by manufacturers ends up going into flexible, multilayered packaging that isn’t intended to be recycled in the first place.

So Rabnawaz is working to make these inherently unrecyclable products recyclable to reduce future waste.

Story written by Matt Davenport. Read more at: MSUToday.