If you use plastic or styrene as a waste material, you’ll be better off using a biodegradable waste stream.
According to a new study, that means you could be making the world a lot better for the planet.
“The recycling of polystyramines is already very efficient and relatively inexpensive,” said lead researcher, professor Michael A. Rizzo from the University of Texas at Austin.
“It could become the most efficient way to recycle plastics and styrene.”
Rizzo and his colleagues from the US and UK found that biodegradation rates for plastics and polystyrenes were similar, with the former taking between three and four days to degrade and the latter taking about a month.
The researchers also found that the process was easy to perform.
“I think the most important thing for plastics is that they should be recycled and not disposed of as landfill materials,” said Rizzol.
“There are lots of places to recycle plastic, and that’s something that we want to avoid.”
The research, published in the journal Science, showed that plastic and styrenes degrade by different mechanisms depending on their location in the environment.
“Polystyrene is relatively cheap, but it’s still a very expensive material,” said the lead researcher.
“The biodegrading process is a lot faster, so we can recycle more plastics.”
Rizos team also found the degradation of plastics was slower for smaller amounts of styrene.
The team found that a bioreactor of Styrene can break down to less than 1% of the original volume.
“We found that we could recycle Styrene at a much lower rate than we would have expected, because the reaction is much slower and we can’t really recover all of the styrene,” Rizzos said.
The researchers also discovered that the decomposition process for plastics was similar to the decomposing of organic materials.
“This is a really interesting finding,” said co-author, Professor Robert Rizzolo.
“A lot of materials are degraded over time, so they end up being more or less the same.
This is a good indication that there’s a common pathway for degradation of these materials.”
The team is now studying how to improve the biodegradeability of plastics and other waste streams.
“If we could make these biodegrades faster, we could save millions of tons of plastic, which would be a lot of good for the environment,” Rizos said.
“It’s not just plastics, but a lot more things can end up in the landfill,” Riazos added.