Engineers have modeled a new way to recycle polystyrene that could become the first viable way of making the material reusable. The chemical method identified to tackle hard-to-recycle packaging material, cutting landfill waste. The team of chemical engineers, based at the University of Bath in the UK and Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, US, say their technique could be the first to make recycling polystyrene both economically viable and energy efficient.

Explained in a new research paper published in the Chemical Engineering Journal, the technique uses a chemical process called pyrolysis to break down polystyrene into parts which can be reformed into new pieces of the material. Polystyrene can be chemically recycled using heat, but repeated treatments degrade the material, causing it to lose strength and flexibility. Because this process requires specialized facilities, most recycling centers do not accept polystyrene—and because of its bulk, high transport costs mean it is rarely moved to these facilities. Consequently, very little polystyrene is recycled at present.

The researchers say that policies to incentivize consumers to recycle polystyrene, or divert it from landfill, would help make the process even more economically attractive.


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