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Chemically recyclable thermoplastics from reversible-deactivation polymerization of cyclic acetals


Identifying plastics capable of chemical recycling to monomer (CRM) is the foremost challenge in creating a sustainable circular plastic economy. Polyacetals are promising candidates for CRM but lack useful tensile strengths owing to the low molecular weights produced using current uncontrolled cationic ring-opening polymerization (CROP) methods. Here, we present reversible-deactivation CROP of cyclic acetals using a commercial halomethyl ether initiator and an indium(III) bromide catalyst. Using this method, we synthesize poly(1,3-dioxolane) (PDXL), which demonstrates tensile strength comparable to some commodity polyolefins. Depolymerization of PDXL using strong acid catalysts returns monomer in near-quantitative yield and even proceeds from a commodity plastic waste mixture. Our efficient polymerization method affords a tough thermoplastic that can undergo selective depolymerization to monomer.

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