When I was growing up, we used to scoff at my grandmother’s early attempts at eco-consciousness. Not only did she wrap our Christmas presents in the Sunday comics, she also carefully folded up every single piece of wrapping paper on the presents we gave her so she could re-use them the following year! Turns out my dearly departed Granny was decades ahead of her time. These days, lots of people love gift bags because they are easily reusable year after year, but they don’t provide that visceral thrill of tearing open your presents like a Red Bull-fueled Tasmanian Devil. Unfortunately, most wrapping paper these days is made out of non-recyclable plastics.
But now researchers at the University of Warwick have developed a new technology that makes it possible to recycle 100% of the world’s discarded wrapping paper by breaking down even the most complex plastic polymers. According to a story on Science Daily, the process involves pyrolysis (using heat in the absence of oxygen to decompose of materials) in a “fluidised bed” reactor. Researchers shoveled a wide range of mixed plastics into the reactor, which reduced them down to useful products such as wax (used as lubricant), styrene (which can be used to make new polystyrene) and carbon (which can be used in paint pigments and tires). The long-term impact of these studies could not only ensure that we all have a much greener Christmas in the future, but could also be used to get rid of the plastic waste currently contaminating our oceans and landfills. –Bret Love