University of Houston Aims to Transform Plastic Waste Management

Sept. 15, 2023
Grant-backed project will tackle the challenges with polyolefins through a three-pronged approach.

 A University of Houston research project, bolstered by a substantial $4 million grant from The Welch Foundation’s Catalyst for Discovery Program, aims to transform plastic waste management.

The project, led by Megan Robertson, a professor of chemical engineering, recognizes the challenge posed by the slow degradation of polyolefins, constituting over 60% of U.S. plastic production. In 2021, the United States managed to recycle just 6% of its 40 million tons of plastic waste, according to Sept. 14 press release on the university’s website. Globally, 400 million tons of plastic waste are generated annually, causing environmental harm.

The research team, comprising experts in polymer synthesis, physics and materials science, aims to address this issue via a three-pronged approach: value-added recycling, upcycling plastics into durable thermoset materials and enabling circular reuse. Key to their strategy is the development of modular "compatibilizers" to facilitate the blending of different plastic waste types, streamlining recycling.

Furthermore, the researchers are also introducing chemical groups into the polymers to accelerate degradation, enabling efficient deconstruction and reconstruction of polymers from degraded plastics.

The Welch Foundation, a source of private funding for chemical research, seeks to support fundamental research that addresses significant global challenges. The University of Houston has received two of the four inaugural Catalyst grants, emphasizing its commitment to addressing critical issues through research, innovation and service.

Read more about the research.

About the Author

Traci Purdum | Editor-in-Chief

Traci Purdum, an award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering manufacturing and management issues, is a graduate of the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent, Ohio, and an alumnus of the Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.