Every year, millions of plastic bottles are thrown away. These disposed plastics may persist for hundreds or even thousands of years. Discarded plastics have become one of the most vexing environmental challenges. How to vanish plastics? This question really does not have a simple answer. Burning of plastics can release toxic fumes. Nowadays, the most commonly used method to recycle plastics is to melt and reuse them, or to grind them for use as fillers in other materials (e.g. concrete). However, the performance of plastics tends to degrade with each reuse cycle, which means the recycled plastics are normally limited to “second generation reuse” only.
One promising way to vanish plastics has been discovered very recently by researchers in IBM and Stanford University. They found that by using novel catalysts, the production process of plastics can be reversed to regenerate the same mix of chemicals that formed the original plastics, which can be purified and used to synthesize new plastics of the same type.
Another potential option is to use biodegradable plastics. These are plastics that can be broken down (metabolized) by bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms. Biodegradation of plastics produce an inert humus-like material, which is less harmful to the environment.
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This answer was writtem by Dr. Jerry Chen who is a post-doctoral fellow in chemical engineering at McMaster University.