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Fix the plastic problem

One of the most popular materials in our lives is also filled with dangerous chemicals that leak out into our environment: plastic. This isn’t exactly new information, particularly with celebrities like Oprah Winfrey hailing the horrors of bottled water or more and more cities banning plastic bags from being given away at stores. Even Plato’s Closet in Christiansburg will give an extra discount stamp for declining a plastic bag.

“One of the most popular materials in our lives is also filled with dangerous chemicals that leak out into our environment: plastic.”

The waste produced from plastic that isn’t or can’t be recycled takes up a sizable chunk of landfills, simply buried underground with the rest of our waste and allowed to poison that ground. While chemicals leaking from plastic into our soil and water is its own problem, the chemicals that leak into our food and so forth is also consumed by humans. The Food and Drug Administration says that amount that’s actually consumed by humans is safe; however, this only means that it probably won’t permanently harm or kill us.

Chemicals from plastic can potentially alter hormones, poison wildlife, and so forth.

However, the fact remains that most of our lives are supported by plastic. Your phone, car, grocery containers, and even the IV bag you get at the hospital are all made from plastic. For a relatively new material, it seems to be integral to our world. So how do we stop plastic from killing it?

Scientists have been trying to figure that out for years and a team of researchers from North Dakota State University have made a huge step recently. They’ve invented a new recipe of molecules that allows plastic to degrade in just three hours of direct sunlight. The new solution is based on fructose molecules and light-absorbing molecules called phototriggers that when strung together and cooled create a solid plastic. The best part? According to the team’s recently published paper in Angewandte Chemie, these molecules can then be recovered and re-used to make new plastic, which helps reduce the demand for raw materials.

Of course the whole dissolving in sunlight thing might not be ideal for many of our plastic items, such as cars or patio furniture. For cell phones and other devices which aren’t often in sunlight for prolonged amounts of time and are difficult to recycle, this material could make a huge impact on waste.  While still being tested and modified for commercial production, this new material could be the first leap in a world desperately in need of less plastic.