Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory and researchers at Clemson University have found a green, low-energy way to break down polystyrene, a plastic widely used in foam packaging materials, disposable food containers, tableware and many other applications.
The discarded polystyrene cannot enter the biogeochemical cycle through biodecomposition and photodecom position.
Due to its low density, foamed polystyrene floats on water or in the wind, causing landscape damage.
According to the California Coastal Commission, polystyrene has become a major Marine drift.
Eating these plastic sea creatures can cause damage to the digestive system.
Currently, the cost of recycling most plastics is high, sorting and separating them requires time and labor, and chemical processing and remanufacturing require large energy inputs and toxic solvents.
In the new study, the scientists used a ball mill to break down commercial polystyrene in a single step, at room temperature and without harmful solvents.
Ball milling is a technique in which material is placed in a grinding bottle containing metal ball bearings and then stirred until the desired chemical reaction occurs.
This experimental method, known as mechanochemistry, has many applications in the synthesis of new materials and the recycling of plastics.