Chilean scientific team proposes technology that could save the environment thousands of tons of plastic – Radio Festival

Chilean scientific team proposes technology that could save the environment thousands of tons of plastic – Radio Festival

A plastic slick currently floating in the Pacific Ocean is a veritable artificial continent damaging the marine biosphere, an island of non-biodegradable material that never stops growing and currently covers an area three times the size of France. “The way most of humanity disposes of plastic is completely inefficient, with some regions managing minimal or outright zero-degree recycling. We think that plastic should not only be a present and future partner of human progress, but a key part of the sustainable solution has to do with how to reintegrate it into industrial value chains. Dr Balsa, who is part of the University of Chile’s Polymer Engineering Laboratory, explains.

A plastic Costanera center

Chile produces and consumes large amounts of plastic. Their characteristics and compatibility mean that our species has given them many uses, from pvc pipes, wrapping materials, films and much more. “There’s a type of plastic that’s rarely talked about, and it’s mainly found in yogurt and ice cream containers… I’m referring to polystyrene (PS), which is a very resilient and versatile type of polymer. It’s different from polyethylene, which has a long history of recycling. We focus on PS. We loved it not only because it was challenging from a technical and scientific point of view, but when we study it in a multidisciplinary way, we achieve great things”, According to the 2022 ranking prepared by the Stanford University and Elsevier Publishing Group, Dr. Balsa is part of the top 2% of the world’s most cited scientists in the field of polymers.

“Our work shows that by subjecting polystyrene to high temperatures (between 400 and 600 degrees Celsius) in an oxygen-free environment, we achieve ‘cracking’ or breakage of the polymer chain (or macromolecule that makes up the plastic), thereby creating smaller molecules, specifically styrene (a raw material of major industrial use). ), which can be reused in other products. In Chile, approximately 26,000 tons of PS container and packaging waste is produced each year (slightly more than the weight of the entire structure of the Kostner Center), a small part of which is reintegrated into circular processes. Until now, it has been treated and recycled. Due to lack of efficient technologies, we have changed that technology status.Says the scientist.

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The details of these results will be explained in simple and didactic language in a webinar on Thursday, August 23 at 9:00 am: Chemical recycling of polystyrene waste to obtain styrene and its integration into a circular economy, to be dictated by Professor Balsa himself. To enter the online activity, you need to register for free with the following connection

sum of parts

The project behind the research was made up of members of the Polymer Engineering Laboratory of the University of Chile, Professor Francisco Gracia (Director of the Department of Chemical Engineering, Biotechnology and Materials at U. de Chile); The company was founded by Coexpan (Grupo Lantero’s business unit specialized in the production of rigid plastic sheets and thermoformed products) and CENEM, a private, non-profit technology company, created by a group of merchants for the sector’s containers and packaging. Solving, investigating and investigating problems related to the operation of packaging. This initiative was funded by the FONDEF project (Code: IT20I0028) of the National Agency for Innovation and Development under the Ministry of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation.


In Chile, 32% of unrecycled plastics end up in landfills and end up in the oceans. As a result, the industry does not recover the economic value of waste and oceans that already accumulate millions of tons of plastics, generating losses of up to 25,000 million dollars annually. As the REP Law promulgated in Chile in 2019 established that by 2030 the industry must assess at least 45% of PS container and packaging waste annually, this primarily linear management model should change in the short term. Therefore, it is of great public interest for the country to develop efficient and sustainable recovery technologies that can contribute to achieving these goals and creating a circular economy.

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