Although plastics such as polyethylene are mechanically recyclable, this process is not indefinitely repeatable. The associated deterioration in material performance requires that more virgin polymer is constantly added, often using reactants derived from fossil fuels. Now, Stefan Mecking and colleagues report a method for producing polycarbonate and polyester materials from sustainable plant oil sources, with functional properties comparable to those of high-density polyethylene. These materials are eminently depolymerizable in basic solutions to yield their constitute monomers, which are then ready for repolymerization. This is a sustainable approach to the synthesis of polyethylene-like plastics, and an example of how a circular plastics economy can be achieved.
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