Abu Dhabi: A team of researchers at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) have created a single-step, organic solvent-free hydrothermal procedure to turn plastic bags made of polyethylene and surgical masks made of polypropylene into carbon dots.
An estimated 26,000 metric tons of pandemic-related plastic waste from medical waste to online shopping packaging have been released into the world’s oceans, making it even more urgent to find efficient methods to upcycle this non-degradable material. One solution is to convert single-use plastic into so-called carbon dots, carbon nanomaterials that are biocompatible, and have applications in the fields of biological imaging, environmental monitoring, chemical analysis, targeted drug delivery, disease diagnosis and therapy, and anticounterfeiting. Existing methods to upcycle plastic into carbon dots involve multiple, time-consuming steps and utilize toxic chemicals.
In the study titled High-yield, One-pot Upcycling of Polyethylene and Polypropylene Waste into Blue-Emissive Carbon Dots published in the journal Green Chemistry, the researchers present the development of a new synthesis method, which is a simple, cost-effective, and highly scalable approach to upcycling plastic waste. Importantly, this oxidative degradation method can upcycle plastics contaminated with organic waste such as food scraps, which poses a significant challenge to traditional recycling technologies. The senior author is Mr. Khalil Ramadi, Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at NYUAD. Mr. Mohammed Abdelhameed, a scientist at NYUAD, and Mr. Mahmoud Elbeh, an NYUAD undergraduate student, are the first authors of the study.
The high volume of single-use plastics used during the pandemic, particularly surgical masks and medical waste, presents an increased need to find a solution for managing non-biodegradable waste. It is also estimated that only 14 percent of the eligible plastic packaging whose use has surged due to the boom in online shopping is recycled, with the rest ending up in landfills and oceans, where it does considerable harm. These materials can be consumed by organisms or fragmented into micro and nano plastics that can threaten terrestrial, marine, and freshwater ecosystems and, ultimately, human health.