Photo/Illutration A plastic material that can heal cracks by itself at room temperature (Provided by University of Tokyo professor Takuzo Aida)

Researchers said they have found a way to create “self-repairing plastics” that can be used in smartphones, cars and other products and reduce the amount of waste now fouling the planet.

Takuzo Aida, a chemistry professor at the University of Tokyo, and his colleagues said a tiny amount of a specialized agent mixed into ordinary plastic can automatically heal cracks and fissures.

Their findings were presented at the annual conference of the Chemical Society of Japan on March 26.

“The technique could lead to the development of a sustainable made-to-last plastic that does not need to be discarded or recycled,” Aida said.

According to a report released in February by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), only 9 percent of plastics around the world were recycled in 2019.

Non-reused plastic materials are buried or incinerated, and a portion of them flow into the seas. Plastic is particularly bad for the environment because it does not decompose under natural conditions.

In 2018, Aida and others used a substance called polyether thiourea to create a plastic material that can mend damage on its own if its fragments are pressed against each other at room temperature.

For the latest research, the team applied the same plastic material to another plastic ingredient with no self-repair function at a rate of 20 percent.

The results showed the mixed plastic can spontaneously repair itself at normal temperatures.

Plastic consists of intertwined chains of many molecules. The molecule connections are dissolved when plastic products break down.

Items fashioned from ordinary plastic must be melted at high temperatures to mend molecule links.

The newly developed plastic fixes broken molecule chains under a mechanism known as hydrogen bonding. Placing damaged pieces together at room temperature for one hour or so will enable them to fully regain durability.

Scars inside the plastic invisible to the naked eye can also be cured, the team said.

The scientists expect the technology to create self-mending plastics with various features if different percentages of ingredients are used.

It might have practical applications for smartphone screens, eyeglass frames, home electronics, furniture, aircraft and cars.