Can making plastic actually save us from pollution?

Scientists have discovered how to turn CO2 in the atmosphere into a raw material used in plastic production
co2 plastic (Stepan Popov | Dreamstime.com)


It's not news that greenhouse gases are a problem facing our planet. This goes especially for CO2 (carbon dioxide). This gas is a harmful by-product of everything from cars and planes, to power plants and factories. The goal of the recent Paris Agreement is to get all of the nations in the world to reduce the CO2 that they produce. But, of course, there is the problem of the CO2 that is already in the atmosphere. How do we get rid of it?

Plants remove CO2 from the air, so reforestation is a part of the solution. But now researchers from the University of Toronto have come up with another idea. They say that they can turn unwanted CO2 into something useful.

Plastic.

Conversion for the future

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Plastic bottles like these could one day be made from the CO2 in the air. (Getty Embed)

Where to begin with this news? Let's first start with how this is done.

Using the Canadian Light Source (CLS), a one-of-a-kind research facility in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, scientists studied the most efficient ways to convert CO2 into ethylene. (This is called a carbon dioxide reduction reaction.) Ethylene is a compound known as a hydrocarbon, which just so happens to be a main ingredient in polyethylene. And we know polyethylene by a different name: plastic!

"I think the future will be filled with technologies that make value out of waste," said lead researcher Phil De Luna on the CLS website. It's hard to argue with that statement, and on the surface, this idea seems like a great one. Another way to have less CO2 in the atmosphere? Sign us up!

But it needs to be asked...is turning CO2 into more plastic really the environmentally-friendly answer we need?

Fantastic plastic?

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No matter how we make our plastic, recycling plants like this one will still be hugely important. (Getty Embed)

You don't need to look any further than the plastic waste found in our oceans for proof that we have a problem.Β But plastic is still a useful product in our society. And it's also something we make about 100 million tonnes of every year.

Currently, the production of polyethylene is adding a lot more greenhouse gases to the air. So if we could make that same amount of plastic by subtracting instead of adding CO2, why wouldn't we? The minds behind this research certainly think that it's a good place to start.

And that's the point, really. This is a start, not the final solution to our environmental issues. If we can make plastic out of CO2 today, perhaps there will one day be a way to make soil out of plastic? What kind of waste-to-value conversion would you like to see in our future?


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