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  1. Management of the plastic industry is a momentous challenge, one that pits enormous societal benefits against an accumulating reservoir of nearly indestructible waste. A promising strategy for recycling polyethylene (PE) and isotactic polypropylene ( i PP), constituting roughly half the plastic produced annually worldwide, is melt blending for reformulation into useful products. Unfortunately, such blends are generally brittle and useless due to phase separation and mechanically weak domain interfaces. Recent studies have shown that addition of small amounts of semicrystalline PE- i PP block copolymers (ca. 1 wt%) to mixtures of these polyolefins results in ductility comparable to the pure materials. However, current methods for producing such additives rely on expensive reagents, prohibitively impacting the cost of recycling these inexpensive commodity plastics. Here, we describe an alternative strategy that exploits anionic polymerization of butadiene into block copolymers, with subsequent catalytic hydrogenation, yielding E and X blocks that are individually melt miscible with PE and i PP, where E and X are poly(ethylene- ran -ethylethylene) random copolymers with 6 wt% and 90 wt% ethylethylene repeat units, respectively. Cooling melt blended mixtures of PE and i PP containing 1 wt% of the triblock copolymer EXE of appropriate molecular weight, results in mechanical properties competitive with the component plastics. Blend toughness is obtained through interfacial topological entanglements of the amorphous X polymer and semicrystalline i PP, along with anchoring of the E blocks through cocrystallization with the PE homopolymer. Significantly, EXE can be inexpensively produced using currently practiced industrial scale polymerization methods, offering a practical approach to recycling the world’s top two plastics. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 22, 2024
  2. Here, low-energy poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) chemical recycling in water: PET copolymers with diethyl 2,5-dihydroxyterephthalate (DHTE) undergo selective hydrolysis at DHTE sites, autocatalyzed by neighboring group participation, is demonstrated. Liberated oligomeric subchains further hydrolyze until only small molecules remain. Poly(ethylene terephthalate-stat-2,5-dihydroxyterephthalate) copolymers were synthesized via melt polycondensation and then hydrolyzed in 150–200 °C water with 0–1 wt% ZnCl2, or alternatively in simulated sea water. Degradation progress follows pseudo-first order kinetics. With increasing DHTE loading, the rate constant increases monotonically while the thermal activation barrier decreases. The depolymerization products are ethylene glycol, terephthalic acid, 2,5-dihydroxyterephthalic acid, and bis(2-hydroxyethyl) terephthalate dimer, which could be used to regenerate virgin polymer. Composition-optimized copolymers show a decrease of nearly 50% in the Arrhenius activation energy, suggesting a 6-order reduction in depolymerization time under ambient conditions compared to that of PET homopolymer. This study provides new insight to the design of polymers for end-of-life while maintaining key properties like service temperature and mechanical properties. Moreover, this chemical recycling procedure is more environmentally friendly compared to traditional approaches since water is the only needed material, which is green, sustainable, and cheap. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2024
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