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Rodrigo Gonzalez

Signature Assignment:

The plastic that exists in our lives doesn’t get much thought. Whether it’s a plastic water bottle or a

container, some of us use it and then just toss it. But that comes with its own issues, such as the Great

Pacific garbage patch which is in the North Pacific Ocean. This patch of floating plastic endangers species

and damages food chains. While it’s hard to estimate its size, it has been said to be about the size of

Texas but much of it is invisible to the naked eye as it is either below the surface or floating plastic

particles. This all leads to the subject of my signature assignment and that involves the chemistry used

to recycle plastics.

First, we must sort the plastics by their composition. The composition of plastic normally found is

Polyethylene Terephthalate and High-Density Polyethylene which respectively account for 19.5% and

10.35% of all plastics recycled. There are a couple ways we can sort plastics; the time-consuming way

would be to look at each label on each bottle to see what type of plastic is present. However, we have a

faster way that involves the use of chemistry. The main ways that plastics are sorted out is by selectively

dissolving plastics in mixtures or with near-infrared spectroscopy and electrostatic separation. From

there we shred the plastics and then wash the granular pieces of plastic to remove labels, dirt or any

other contaminants present, we’ll also use density separation as well. Once washed, we’ll dry the plastic

and we’ll separate the plastic by color using UV or fluorescent light. The final step in all this involves

packing up the plastic pellets for resale to be used again for plastic bottles, containers or even carpet.

If we break down that process, we see how chemistry plays a part throughout the whole process. For

example, as mentioned before, near-infrared spectroscopy is used to identify a polymer. Using a series

of detectors that recognize characteristic absorbance peaks in each polymers NIR spectrum, we can tell

what exactly the polymer is. From there it’s a simple air jet that gets triggered to blow each piece of

plastic to its designated container in the recycle process. Once we’ve separated the plastics and then
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shredded them to granular pellets, we still need to do one last bit of separation to ensure a pure

product. One way to do this is to use density separation, which means putting all the pellets into water

and checking to see which pellets float at certain levels. We can verify that only certain pellets should,

for example, float at the top of the water, while dirt or contaminates might sink to the bottom. From

there we can separate the pure plastics and then let them dry. At times heat is also used to both melt

products down or in another process known as depolymerization. This process involves turning a

polymer, such as polyethylene and turning it into a monomer, which in this case would be C2H4 as the

chemical formula.

Recycling plastics will play a big part in your role in maintain a sustainable environment for us and all

that live here. Chemistry will help this process by both helping make it easier to recycle plastics at our

local recycling centers and hopefully building more environmentally sound plastics that biodegrade on

their own.

Reflection:

Chemistry 1010 has shown me the weaknesses in my studying habits. It’s also helped me realize which

ways I learn best. This class did not go well for me when I tried to read the text just before a test. My

grades suffered when I only went over the material once and not repeatedly. Nothing really stuck in my

mind if I didn’t tie it to real world examples. All this to say that I know now what I need to work on when

I study. One of the key things is time management, setting time aside to both study and practice is

necessary to succeed in any class. This is especially true in a science class however, just because I have

no assignment due on a certain day, doesn’t mean I couldn’t use the free day to sharpen my knowledge

of certain chapters. One thing I didn’t think would help was writing everything down on a index card. But

before every test, I’d make one and I feel like I was able to retain more knowledge because I had to

write it down, in my own words. Another way my critical thinking evolved was in being able to separate
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the superfluous information in a text from what was actually necessary for the chapter. This actually

helped me in other classes in my semester, such as my film class. A lot of the text in the book for my film

class felt like unnecessary or just as a way to pad out the page. But being able to skim through the text

and latch onto what was necessary helped me in that class.

My overall appreciation for chemistry has changed due to this class as well. I always sort of thought that

it just involved putting chemicals together in a beaker and watching them fizz over. But this class made

me realize that chemistry is involved in everything we do in our lives. The soda I buy from the vending

machine, chemistry was involved in the making of the drink, but also the bottle. The machine I got the

soda from involves significant amounts of chemistry, from the metal used to build the frame to the

wiring the powers the whole thing. I didn’t realize visible light or UV rays played into chemistry as well, I

thought that was a physics thing for some reason. I actually really enjoyed learning about that and now

it makes sense, but that’s changed my perspective on the science of chemistry as a whole.

Overall, I feel this class made me a better student, I feel like I know how to study in a better way. I

definitely struggled when I didn’t devote enough time to this class and the positive habits I’ve picked up

from this class are going to stay with me for a long time. I feel this class wasn’t just about how hydrogen

combines with oxygen to form water. It was about examining how you study and adapting that to ways

that lead to success. The chemistry was just there to help test your study habits and forcing you to adapt

to match the material.

Works Cited
Brunning, Andy. “Periodic Graphics: How Is Plastic Recycled?” C&EN, American Chemical Society,
20 Apr. 2018, cen.acs.org/environment/sustainability/Periodic-graphics-plastic-recycled/96/i17.
Tingleis , Mike. “The Science of Sorting.” Education in Chemistry, 2 Sept. 2013,
eic.rsc.org/feature/the-science-of-sorting/2000131.article.

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