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Plastics pollution may lead new era of jobs

Hiring Hoosiers
Posted: 5:30 AM, Apr 24, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-24 05:30:44-04

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WEST LAFAYETTE — Your drive to work or your flight to your vacation hot spot may one day be fueled by the plastic straws in your drinks. The possibility is emerging in a Purdue University lab.

Professor Linda Wang and several engineers are working on extracting the chemicals in straws and other plastics into a renewable energy.

"No, no, no we don't have that much time because the waste is accumulating in the environment and the longer you wait the more costly to clean up the environment so my goal is hopefully within five years," Professor Wang said.

Purdue researchers point to a study which says that by the year 2050 oceans may hold more plastic than fish. About 12 percent of all plastics are burned, 9 percent recycled and the remaining 79 percent go to landfills or end up as litter.

"I think the jobs will come with the solution of the problem. If we are solving an important problem I think jobs will follow," Wang said. "But to have jobs you must have profits for industry or some incentives for industry so that's why we think converting plastic waste which is useless waste and damaging the environment right now into something useful this will create jobs. This will create profits for industry and that will create jobs.”

They are confident they can make a dent in the problem and create a demand for their products and jobs.

Among the engineers collaborating with Professor Wang is Professor Gozdem Kilaz.

Kilaz says she often thinks about job creation.

"It does matter because it's the continuity of humanity. We have to continue being productive and as chemical engineers this is one thing that separates us chemical engineers from the rest of the engineering because we always have to think from cradle to grave," Kilaz said. "We always have to think about the business about the humanity about the sustainability of it and Sustainability is a very important topic right now especially at Purdue we're approaching the 150th year and our celebration of our giant so this process of Dr. Wang is the stellar example of a sustainable giant leap towards a wonderful future.”

New sources of energy often trigger concerns from traditional energy producers. Professor Wang has a message for them.

“No they should be concerned about the long-term survival of the planet right," Wang said. "They cannot be so short-term about profits because if poisoned the oceans irreversibly we will need a new planet. So I think they should be concerned about that rather than their profits.”