Materials

Five forms of eco-friendly plastic that break down fast

Five forms of eco-friendly pla...
Most plastics commonly used today take a long time to break down in the environment, but scientists are developing greener alternatives
Most plastics commonly used today take a long time to break down in the environment, but scientists are developing greener alternatives
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Most plastics commonly used today take a long time to break down in the environment, but scientists are developing greener alternatives
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Most plastics commonly used today take a long time to break down in the environment, but scientists are developing greener alternatives

The battle against plastic pollution is one being fought on many fronts, but a particularly critical one centers on the material's capacity to persist in the environment for a long time, even centuries in some cases. By tweaking the process by which plastic is made, scientists hope to offer functional forms of it that safely and naturally degrade in just a fraction of the time. And recent breakthroughs suggest such a future mightn't be all that far away.

It is the same durability and dependability that make plastic such an invaluable material, for everything from safely packaging important medicines to forming the body of our toothbrushes that keep our mouths clean, that also make it such a prickly environmental problem.

Most common plastics are made from a chemical derived from petroleum that is treated to form incredibly strong carbon bonds between individual monomers, which join together into long chains to form a polymer called polypropylene. This is something that doesn't occur naturally in nature, so nature, naturally, has a very difficult time taking it apart again.

While a great deal of scientific research into plastics focuses on novel recycling methods that can more effectively break these chains apart and allow the material to be re-used, some seek the need for recycling all together. These include plastic materials made with the help of natural materials, and some that even have a few neat tricks up their sleeves like embedded enzymes that help break them down once they've served their purpose.

Here is a look at some significant and highly promising breakthroughs to take place in this area of late.

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paul314
Imagine if research funders had seen the need for these plastics a couple decades earlier.