Solving the industry's sticky recycling issues
Adhesive residue left on recyclable materials, such as glass and cardboard, can now be dissolved thanks to the introduction of degradable polymers created by University of Surrey scientists.
Sticky residue causes problems in the recycling industry, ranging from low-quality products, blocked water systems and even damaged recycling machinery.
The newly invented adhesive, very similar to that used on commercial packaging tape, has a chemical additive known as thionolactone which makes up 0.25% of the composition. This additive allows the adhesive to be dissolved in the recycling process, something which was previously not possible. Labels can also be detached up to 10 times faster when compared to a non-degradable adhesive.
"Adhesives are made from a network of chain-like polymer molecules, irreversibly linked them together, which leads to the residue build-up we see left behind when recycling materials such as glass and cardboard.
"The problem of network residues is frustrating on an industrial scale and consequences of insoluble adhesives on the quality of recycled products are of even greater concern. Our solution offers the promise of less challenging and more cost-effective recycling.
"Our additive creates what we call degradable thioester connections in the polymer network and provides an innovative solution to making recycling processes residue free."
"While other degradable adhesives exist, there are none which resemble what is currently used industry-wide in their chemical make-up. We are proving it is possible to use similar adhesives and show that a simple additive has the potential to increase the quality of recycled materials such as glass and cardboard.
"The next steps would be to look at the commercial viability of this additive, as well as look at the sustainability impact."
So far, the adhesive has been tested on glass, steel, plastic and paper, including cardboard.
Rohani Abu Bakar is the lead PhD student working on this project funded by the Malaysian Rubber Board. She commented on the impact this will have when she returns to Malaysia:
"The interdisciplinary approach across chemistry and physics has been incredibly useful in building the knowledge and skills to solve a very real sustainability problem. There is no doubt that many countries across the world need to review how they recycle major materials, and this brings us one step closer to reaching our sustainability goals on an industrial scale."
The paper has been published in the German Chemical Society journal Angewandte Chemie.
The University of Surrey is a world-leading centre for excellence in sustainability – where our multi-disciplinary research connects society and technology to equip humanity with the tools to tackle climate change, clean our air, reduce the impacts of pollution on health and help us live better, more sustainable lives.
The University is committed to improving its own resource efficiency on its estate and being a sector leader, aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030. A focus on research that makes a difference to the world has contributed to Surrey being ranked 55th in the world in the Times Higher Education (THE) University Impact Rankings 2022, which assesses more than 1,400 universities' performance against the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Notes to Editors
Abu Bakar, Rohani, Kyle S. Hepburn, Joseph L. Keddie, and Peter J. Roth. "Degradable, Ultraviolet‐crosslinked Pressure‐sensitive Adhesives Made from Thioester‐functional Acrylate Copolymers." Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 2023. https://doi.org/10.1002/anie.202307009.
Professor Joseph Keddie is available for interview upon request
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Dr Peter RothSenior Lecturer in Applied Organic/Polymer Chemistry and School Postgraduate Research Director