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Bacteria Eat Styrofoam 253

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the just-like-a-tasty-steak dept.
chaosmage42 writes "Scientists at the University of Dublin have found a way to break down styrofoam, the bane of recyclers/composters everywhere. This could be a great step towards sustainability, but it does require the styrofoam to be heated first."
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Bacteria Eat Styrofoam

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  • Side Effect (Score:5, Funny)

    by dsginter (104154) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @12:48PM (#14876072)
    Unfortunately, eating the styrofoam causes the bacteria to shit lead. Give a penny, take a penny.
  • Cancer anyone? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BecomingLumberg (949374) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @12:48PM (#14876080)
    Last I checked, heating styrofoam let off some pretty nasty gasses... Is this really the whiz-bang solution we were hoping for?
    • Yeah well...

      Researchers came up with a brand new solution to make styrofoam disappear!

      The revolutionary new process is called 'burning', and it will get rid of styrofoam entirely!

      Of course they figured out what to do with the gases, they convert them to styrofoam, so with this amazing idea, they get rid of both problems!

      News at 11.
    • by hcob$ (766699)
      Last I checked, heating styrofoam let off some pretty nasty gasses... Is this really the whiz-bang solution we were hoping for?
      Well, if you're going to stick your head into the oven that's being used to melt the styrafoam... you got other problems.
    • Re:Cancer anyone? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Baseball_Fan (959550)
      Last I checked, heating styrofoam let off some pretty nasty gasses... Is this really the whiz-bang solution we were hoping for?

      I don't know how true this is, but when I was in highschool there was a book which was popular with the science guys called "Anarchist Cookbook". I remember something about disolving styrofoam cups in gasoline to make napalm.

      Something that might be a little off topic, but I was reading the news and a highschool kid got expelled for browsing the web for the cookbook. When I was i

      • That most certainly does work, although its a balancing act. You need really high octane gas if you want to put enough styrofoam inside it to make it really sticky but still burn. Really, you could do the same with gas and any flammable yet sticky substance (although its hard to get large quantities of superglue...). Vaseline works too, if you can get the two to emulsify.
      • Reading that book is a red flag to pretty much all authorities these days.
    • Re:Cancer anyone? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by reverseengineer (580922) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @01:29PM (#14876506)
      The "pretty nasty gasses" are pretty much what the the bacteria are dining on. In this process, polystyrene is depolymerized back to styrene. Styrene is benzene with a vinyl group attached, and like most benzene derivatives, is generally bad for health, especially under prolonged exposure. The Material Safety Data Sheet [ox.ac.uk] for styrene notes in the toxicology section: Toxic. Carcinogen. Mutagen. Corrosive, causes burns to skin and eyes. Lachrymator. Harmful by inhalation, ingestion and through skin absorption. Long term exposure may affect CNS.

      Now, styrene isn't especially toxic- the quoted toxicity data applies almost word for word for many organic liquids- gasoline (petrol), for instance. This process of breaking down polystyrene foam isn't exactly something you can safely do at home. Then again, you probably don't recycle polyethylene or aluminum at your residence either. There are safety and economies of scale issues with recycling those as well. However, it may find application on an industrial waste management scale. Done under controlled conditions, this process should certainly be no more hazardous than any other industrial process- and less hazardous than something like petroleum refining.

    • Re:Cancer anyone? (Score:3, Informative)

      by luder (923306) *

      I would be more worried if you said:

      "Last I checked, eating styrofoam let off some pretty nasty gasses..."

  • by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother@NosPAm.optonline.net> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @12:48PM (#14876084) Journal
    Kevin O'Connor of University College Dublin and his colleagues heated polystyrene foam, the generic name for Styrofoam, to convert it to styrene oil. The natural form of styrene is in real peanuts, strawberries and a good steak. A synthetic form is used in car parts and electronic components.

    Anyway, the scientists fed this styrene oil to the soil bacteria Pseudomonas putida, which converted it into biodegradable plastic known as PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates).

    The next step for University College Dublin researchers is to get the bacteria to excrete Guinness.

  • by gasmonso (929871) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @12:51PM (#14876111) Homepage

    Just disolve the styrofoam with gasoline and tada, you have napalm. Bingo bango, problem solved!

  • I've often wondered about exactly how long modern plastic bags or throw away plastic water bottles last when chucked into the sea or buried.

    The problem is really apparent if you travel through India or another less developed country. They have no social stigma against littering like we do in western countries.

    Plastic bags and water bottles are everywhere throughout the landscape, I've seen mountain villages use otherwise pristine streams as dumping grounds for vast mounds of plastic.

    Will these things ever
    • The good news is that the PET (what water bottles are made from) will degrade from UV exposure. The bad news is that manufacturers add UV stabilizers to containers made from PET in order to protect the contents from UV, the stabilizers also protect the plastic from UV. My questions are: If PET water bottles will eventually degrade from UV exposure, what chemicals do they release and what compounds do they degrade into? Are the decompostion products more or less environmentally desireable than an intact wa
    • Why the concern over a rock? A rather soft rock.
    • I've noticed there seems to be less stigma, but I've noticed something else. all those huge piles of garbage have poor people living in them. we have poor people living in piles of garbage elsewhere in the world, too. we just call them hobos instead of peasants or subsistence farms, since we don't have nearly as many of them in the richer parts of the western world.
  • I have 5-gallon bottle of water, algae, moss, various aquatic creatures and about a dozen styrofoam peanuts. Its a nearly closed self-maintaining ecosystem that my wife calls my "pet dirty water." After some 10 years, peanuts are almost 2/3 gone -- eroded by something in the water. 10 years may seem like a long time, but compared to scare-tactic predictions of that styrofoam never goes away, this article (and my aquarium) proves otherwise.
    • That's awesome! You've got a wife that doesn't make you throw stuff like that out!

      Later,
      -Slashdot Junky
    • by flyingsquid (813711) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @01:15PM (#14876361)
      How do you go about setting something like this up- how much organic material, what kind of aquatic critters, etc.? (actually, self-sustaining ecosystems would be an interesting slashdot article I think... an ecosystem hack).

      My last experiment with aquatic ecosystems ended rather badly, unfortunately. I was raising a sea monkey colony. One night, I was enjoying a few beers, and I suddenly decided I had to know whether sea monkeys also liked beer. Science in action!

      Alas, sea monkeys do *not* like beer. I'm not sure if it's the various carbohydrates, yeasts and soforth that so disagreed with them, or if they just can't hold their liquor.

    • by HairyCanary (688865) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @01:21PM (#14876423)
      Or perhaps the styrofoam peanuts are merely breaking apart into smaller chunks. I do not see how your experiment proves that styrofoam does biodegrade (especially when there is scientific evidence to the contrary). And this article does not suggest that there is any bacteria that can eat styrofoam directly -- it has to be heated and converted back into liquid styrene first.

      Nice try though.

      • The "various aquatic creatures" may also be trying to eat the styrofoam.

        I've watched fish try to eat bubbles before, so it isn't like they're very smart. (and even if they didn't try to eat bubbles, it isn't like they're very smart)
    • by DietFluffy (150048) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @01:43PM (#14876662)
      Did you check the water for dissolved polystyrene? Solubility for polystyrene is very low, but it may be noticeable after 10 years. If it did dissolve and not degrade, that means that all the styrofoam is chemically unchanged and is still in the 5-gallon bottle.
      • by kesuki (321456) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @06:16PM (#14879032) Journal
        Well I'd just like to point out a few points 1. Everything is either biodegradable, or erodable. 'non biodegradable plastic' is a con, it's plastic that takes Decades of exposure to sunlight, hot and cold temperatures to erode/degrade away. the thing is, landfills have NONE of that, they have one nice constant temperature, one nice constant level of humidity, and no sunlight of anykind. Plastatcs that can 'degrade' under the conditions found in a landfill can be made, mainly by examining the prevlent soil bacteria, and making the polymers an 'ideal' treat for said soil bacteria. normal houshold goods like 'apple cores' are non 'biodegradable' in that, once burried they become 'petrafied' and fosilized. (after enough time has passed)

        so really, 'biodegradable' is just a catch phrase, anything that is esposed to sun wind and rain long enough will break down. although it may not be 'safe' to allow such things to break down that way, as polystryne beads might choke innocent creatures trying to eat them, etc.

        however, building nearly self contained ecosystems to break town waste would create more of a problem, than processing them, or simply burying them already does.
    • Do you really not even know the difference between "bio-degrade" and "dissolve"? As others have pointed out, "bio-degrade" does not mean "becoming so small that it can't be seen with the naked eye anymore". Here's a little analogy to help you: If I dissolve a bit of arsenic in a glass of water until you can't see it at all, will you drink it? I mean, according to your analytical skills, the arsenic must be, um, "gone", so no worries right? I find such a depth of ignorance and lack of insight a little hard t

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @12:55PM (#14876154) Homepage
    This could be a great step towards sustainability, but it does require the styrofoam to be heated first.

    I hope so. It would be rather bad if there was a bacteria that could feed on styrofoam that hadn't been altered in some way. Order some electronics online, and they arrive in a box dripping with whatever organic waste products these bacteria leave behind... Yeah, I'm glad.
  • Cost/benefit? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ursabear (818651) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @12:55PM (#14876157) Homepage Journal
    I'd like to see a comprehensive cost/benefit analysis in a real-world application. On the one hand, ridding ourselves of zillions of cubic yards of polystyrene materials (yes, Styrofoam [wikipedia.org] is a trademarked name). On the other hand, releasing a bacteria through animal (?) husbandry may have repercussions about which we have not thought. I'd be very interested to see an analysis of whether or not these particular bacteria can have detrimental excretions, or even have an issue with the bacteria mutating into an "undesireable" breed.

    I'm glad this type of research is ongoing. We really need to help old lady Earth out as much as possible these days.
    • Re:Cost/benefit? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TubeSteak (669689) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @01:10PM (#14876304) Journal
      On the other hand, releasing a bacteria through animal (?) husbandry may have repercussions about which we have not thought.
      Reminds me of the bacteria that eats super-conductor materials from the Larry Niven Ringworld series.

      All the tech on RingWorld stopped working because some traveling ship showed up carrying a bacteria that ate superconductors.

      Floating cities crashed, people starved, basically everything went to hell and all the people reverted to tribal/nomadic existence.

      Admittedly, the bacteria came from outside the 'system' but there's a larger meaning in that story.
      • Re:Cost/benefit? (Score:3, Informative)

        by drew (2081)
        Well, yes, except that in that case...

        (*** minor spoiler if you haven't read beyond the first book ***)

        The bacteria were deliberately introduced into the Ringworld environment with that specific intention, so it wasn't an unintended side-effect.
    • No problem there - we'll just release wave after wave of Chinese Needle Snakes.
  • Cost v. Benefit? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jon.wolf (938920) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @12:57PM (#14876176)
    From reading the article (I know, how novel!), I understand that the styrofoam must be turned into a liquid and the first thing that came to my mind was: How much energy is required to do that?

    The foam doesn't just need to be warmed, it has to be heated to the point of breaking down. I can't imagine doing this on a large scale would be cheap. Would the enviromental impact resulting from the creation of millions of joules of energy required to break down styrofoam outweigh the environmental benefits of destroying the styrofoam?

    Also, I have learned from my accidental non-scientific microwave experiments that melting styrofoam smells terrible. Would liquifying styrofoam on a large scale produce similar noxious fumes (and potential environmental side effects)?

    • Well, in a dump a lot of methane gas is produced as the items break down. Normally, this gas is just burnt. What if you burnt the gas to heat the styrofoam? It would be quasi-self sustaining.
      • Normally, this gas is just burnt.

        Actually... more and more landfills are installing methane wells to collect and re-sell the gas. Partly because it can make them money, partly because its environmentally friendly, and mainly because the EPA/EPD says so with hefty fines for those that just burn it/vent it/do nothing.

        tm

    • Re:Cost v. Benefit? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Richthofen80 (412488) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @02:09PM (#14876905) Homepage
      Umm, when you recycle aluminum or steel, you have to melt it. Same applies for glass, I think.

      Recycling requires energy, yes. The benefit for recycling has never been that it takes less energy to form/manufacture , but that it is cheaper to buy X tonnes of used material versus digging/farming/buying X tonnes of new material.

      If you're worried about heating, I wouldn't be. Heat can be generated via electricity, which can be generated via clean methods.
      • Good level-headed response. Recycling is also about waste diversion, which ties into the above benefits you mentioned. The last thing we need are more landfills slowly leaching toxic materials into the water system.
    • There's plenty of untapped energy in our landfills already. Build an incinerator, use it to convert the styrofoam, ship off the styrene oil over to a processing plant... or do it on the spot. I see no trouble here.
  • by dada21 (163177) * <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @01:01PM (#14876226) Homepage Journal
    I had a good debate with a ('socialist') friend yesterday regarding funding research and development voluntarily -- medical, environmental, etc.

    We had talked about the problem with pollution and his solution was always using government to try to make people stop polluting. Yet it seems to me that there are other solutions, including finding ways to take pollutants and break them down. I've heard more and more over the recent years about using bacteria to break down oil spills and radioactive wastes and even to use bacteria to eat up garbage dumbs. Here is another article regarding new bacteria that serve the purpose of cleaning up past pollutions.

    I know from my experiences that government regulations on polluting seem to have a positive effect of making the world cleaner, but they also have a negative effect of reducing a company's ability to provide their customers with a product or service at the best price. Sure, the average socialist will say that corporations just want to pollute the world so they can make a buck, but that's not the case: corporations want to provide the best price to their consumers, which is why pollution has tended to be so obvious. It also seems to me that there are new and amazing ways to fix the problem of pollution without only making the source stop.

    Are there organizations, private ones, that are dedicated to finding new ways to combat the pollutants around us? If so, I'd love to know how I can help fund them. I'm a regular reader of perc.org which focuses on private and voluntary environmentalism, and I'd love to put my money where my mouth is.
    • We had talked about the problem with pollution and his solution was always using government to try to make people stop polluting.

      In many cases, it isn't that government needs to make companies stop polluting, it's that there is a lack of education and incentives to change things. In many manufacturing processes, for example, it is often cheaper to recycle solid waste products than it is to dispose of them. Unfortunately, in most of these cases, it requires the company to change their processes. The cos

    • I know from my experiences that government regulations on polluting seem to have a positive effect of making the world cleaner, but they also have a negative effect of reducing a company's ability to provide their customers with a product or service at the best price. Sure, the average socialist will say that corporations just want to pollute the world so they can make a buck, but that's not the case: corporations want to provide the best price to their consumers, which is why pollution has tended to be so

    • Sure, the average socialist will say that corporations just want to pollute the world so they can make a buck, but that's not the case: corporations want to provide the best price to their consumers, which is why pollution has tended to be so obvious.(emphasis added)

      Corporations want to maximize profit. Period. Full stop. That's it. Of course, limiting pollution may be in line with that goal, but it might not be. Any action that a corporation takes to limit pollution is connected to an effort to maximize

      • Corporations want to maximize profit. Period. Full stop. That's it.

        While this is true of all my corporations, this is a confusing statement.

        How do I maximize profit? By making my customers happy today, and making sure they come back tomorrow. There are VERY few corporations that want to get in and get out -- the reality is that business has costs that take time to overcome, and exiting the market after gaining back these costs-to-entry doesn't make much sense from a time preference perspective.

        Also, not
        • I think we're in agreement. When you see a company do something like give to charity, they aren't doing it to be nice. They're doing it for good PR and possibly tax benefits. It may also have a bearing on employee morale. My point being that this is intended to have a positive impact on the bottom line.

          Profit is not bad, it means a gain instead of a loss.

          I absolutely agree.

          There is no good or evil in the free market. I think that's what scares a lot of people.

    • Government very rarely tries to make people "stop polluting". Legislators and regulators understand that industrial processes and many things in our modern life cause pollution. There are only a few examples of 'zero pollution' initiatives, most notably the Montreal Protocol for CFCs, which has been by most accounts a great success, with the ozone hole actually shinking for some years (whether this is a direct result of the MP is yet to be determined, of course).

      I know from my experiences that government
  • Did you guys remember how Teflon(TM) was non-biodegradable? Well, the Teflon guys modified E.Coli to digest Teflon. Ta-da, problem solved :)

    See, this is one of the good parts about genetic engineering, I recall other bacteria being used in water treating plants to process cyanide (was it on Discovery where I saw it?). To prove the non-toxicity of the water they used fish in the outstream. The fish was breathing without problems.
  • by G3ckoG33k (647276) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @01:09PM (#14876286)
    When I was in Manaus, Brasil many years ago, the entire floor was covered with poisonous liquids... Eventually we found the big 200 L barrel which had emptied. Who would emptied that barrel, and why?! Well, the answer was underneath. The entire bottom had been perforated by some notoriuous beetle larvae eating the low polymer plastics of the barrel. It had the beautiful winding pattern you may see on murky wood at times. Guess if that 1 cm larva got a surprise trying to drink 200 L of poisonous fluids...
  • bacteria.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by dan20164 (959806) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @01:10PM (#14876302)
    now if they could only fart ozone..
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @01:20PM (#14876418) Homepage Journal
    Larry Niven's famous Ringworld civilization (SPOILER ALERT) collapsed when they became infested with rampant superconductor-eating bacteria [larryniven.org].

    What happens when these bacteria inevitably escape into the "wild"? Powerplants and conduits, whose designers never anticipated that hot styrofoam would rot within a few weeks, could suddenly fail, causing disasters worldwide. Nuclear plants, including nuclear submaries and aircraft carriers, could literally explode once their insulation (both heat and electric charge) disappears. Less sensational, but probably more destructive overall, bacterial infestations of general consumer products would destroy vast amounts of property with styrofoam components. Much of it critical, some of it valuable, but all of it gone, likely in large quantities.

    The bacteria engineers would be much more responsible to include a critical factor required by the bacteria for digesting styrofoam, other than just heat. Like a cheap, biodegradable, nontoxic fluid "tagged" with a specific set of functional groups. That "synthetic enzyme" would allow the bacteria to eat the styrofoam when applied. When not applied, the bacteria couldn't eat, couldn't reproduce. We could control the amount of styrofoam consumed by controlling the cheap enzyme, mixing it into landfills and water purification.
    • What happens when these bacteria inevitably escape into the "wild"? Powerplants and conduits, whose designers never anticipated that hot styrofoam would rot within a few weeks, could suddenly fail, causing disasters worldwide.

      Well, go read a nice book: "Mutant 59: The Plastic Eater" by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis.

      It describes that very scenario about some plastic-eating bug which accidentally is released and starts to chew not only on the plastic it was designed to eat but also other plastics...

      Caus

    • Yeah... ever read Mutant-59 the Plastic Eaters by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis? Scientists engineer bacteria that can eat plastic, ending plastic polution -- and it turns out to be a mistake.
  • by egomaniac (105476) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @01:22PM (#14876434) Homepage
    This actually scares me. What happens to modern society when bacteria, fungus, and other assorted critters evolve the ability to break down plastics? There is no particular reason this can't happen, as plastics would make an extremely high-energy organic food source.

    Imagine if your laptop computer started growing mold like an old loaf of bread. Now take a look around your house, office, or wherever and imagine if every single plastic item in existence did. Maybe it won't ever happen -- I certainly hope not -- but this is a worrying first step. Are we too confident in the permanence of our plastic items?
    • by Anomalous Coward (44935) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @01:40PM (#14876631)
      What happens to modern society when bacteria, fungus, and other assorted critters evolve the ability to break down plastics?

      Probably something similar to what would happen if bacteria, mold, insects, et. al. suddenly started being able to eat wood!! Look around at all the things that are made of wood or use wood in their construction. Civilization would surely fall if that were to ever happen. Maybe if we're really lucky it will never happen. Or maybe, just maybe, we'd learn to deal with it.

    • Yeah, it would be a nightmare. In fact, imagine if bacteria, mold, and fungii evolved the ability to break down food... with no food supply, we would die within days!

      See how ridiculous this sounds now? Bacteria and mold don't instantly eat anything. They are slow working organisms that cause no noticeable damage until their numbers build up.

      Mold can eat right through the drywall in your house, but it doesn't. That is because you keep it in check via cleaning and maintenence (at least I hope) and keeping it
    • Imagine if your laptop computer started growing mold like an old loaf of bread. Now take a look around your house, office, or wherever and imagine if every single plastic item in existence did. Maybe it won't ever happen -- I certainly hope not -- but this is a worrying first step. Are we too confident in the permanence of our plastic items?

      Given that wood, cloth, and leather are already biodegradable, I'm not so worried.
  • Now, if those bacteria give off energy as they devour the styrofoam, we already have some sort of algorithm to try to get the bacteria to follow courtesy of Symantec's recent coding contest [symantec.com].
  • Heated how much? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Scrameustache (459504) * on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @01:27PM (#14876488) Homepage Journal
    The article wasn't very clear on numbers, but...

    Composting produces quite a bit of heat, if it requires to be heated to those temperatures, it could be included in a process (bury it in compostable material, let the heat build up, etc).

    Else, you could use solar energy. Our backyard composters are black plastic, they're frigid now, but in the summer sun they get so hot you can barely touch 'em... then again, TFA seems to imply "heated to liquefaction", so, maybe not.
  • This is great news!

    Now we need to take it to the next level and find out a way to make these same bacteria eat whole fast food restaurants, and the world will be saved!
  • by fortinbras47 (457756) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @01:41PM (#14876636)
    Don't get me wrong, I think the science here is really awesome!

    But on a public policy side, there's no landfill shortage at all.

    Check out this article from the New York Times magazine, "Recycling is Garbage" by John Tierney. From the article:

    A. Clark Wiseman, an economist at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., has calculated that if Americans keep generating garbage at current rates for 1,000 years, and if all their garbage is put in a landfill 100 yards deep, by the year 3000 this national garbage heap will fill a square piece of land 35 miles on each side.

    This doesn't seem a huge imposition in a country the size of America. The garbage would occupy only 5 percent of the area needed for the national array of solar panels proposed by environmentalists. The millennial landfill would fit on one-tenth of 1 percent of the range land now available for grazing in the continental United States. And if it still pains you to think of depriving posterity of that 35-mile square, remember that the loss will be only temporary. Eventually, like previous landfills, the mounds of trash will be covered with grass and become a minuscule addition to the nation's 150,000 square miles of parkland.

    It appears someone archived it here.... http://www.williams.edu/HistSci/curriculum/101/gar bage.html [williams.edu]

    And there's the actual nytimes page... http://www.nytimes.com/1996/06/30/magazine/063096- tierney-magazine.html [nytimes.com] (If you get to this link from John Tierney's nytimes columnist page, they give you this article for free, but if you follow any other link, they try to charge you. weird!)

  • Something that is inert in the environment like polystrene really isn't that much of a problem. We have plenty of land, the only problem with landfills is the NIMBY phenomena.

    What becomes a problem is when stuff starts degrading into bioactive compounds that cause various health issues. Once an inert material becomes toxic and mobile through biodegradation have you really done anything good?

  • Won't they just be hungry again in an hour after eating the stryofoam that my Chinese takeout came in?
  • by HiVizDiver (640486) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @01:58PM (#14876809)
    We use a lot of EPS and styrofoam where I work (theatre, we make a lot of scenery with it), and we use a product called "Meltdown".

    http://visualpollution.com/Construction/meltdown.h tm/ [visualpollution.com].

    Essentially you spray this stuff on the foam, it smells a bit like oranges. Within seconds, it "dissolves" the foam, and can actually be used over again, so what we do is spray the foam, then put it in a bucket and keep feeding pieces into the bucket. It makes a sticky "slime". I'm honestly not sure what we do with the substance once we're done, but I think that we just keep using it in the bucket, it keeps eating foam. I imagine that at some point it reaches some sort of "equilibrium" where it doesn't dissolve any more. The MSDS http://visualpollution.com/PDF/Meltdown.pdf/ [visualpollution.com] says it is accepted by most sewage plants.

    I suppose the advantage of the article's subject is that it actually turns the foam into something usable, rather than just d-Limonene sludge.
    • Interesting. I'd remembered reading on Slashdot a couple years ago about a Japanese scientist who discovered that orange extract would disolve styrofoam quite easily. I tried to do this myself, when I had a large bag full of shipping peanuts and felt bad just throwing it in the trash. I bought a bottle of orange cleaner and tried spraying over the styrofoam to little effect... Dipping a single peanut into a glass of the stuff did mostly dissolve it, but in the end the concentration of d-Limonene in the
  • Of course I'd rather have my food cooked than raw! Pan fried it with some salt please!
  • This could be a great step towards sustainability, but it does require the styrofoam to be heated first.

    Perfect! This is why we must continue our efforts to achieve global warming.

  • by mmell (832646) <mike.mell@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @02:32PM (#14877134)
    She calls them "rice cakes", though.
  • The process will be detailed in the April 1 issue of the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology.
    So are we to believe something published in a journal on April 1 ???

    Sounds suspicious to me - but then I love the random jokes people play on that day

  • by deviantphil (543645) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @02:42PM (#14877224)
    Styrofoam (R) is a Trademark of The Dow Chemical COmpany [dow.com]. What this article is talking about is normal polystyrene such as taht used in cups.
  • I went to the Metreon in SF and saw a display/exhibit on how Sony has been working on a way to recycle polystyrene, since they use it to box and protect all their electronics (like the custom molded bricks for TV boxes). Supposedly they used d-Limonene, an oil from lemon and orange peels, to dissolve the polystyrene while keeping the polymer chains long. I think limonene is also found in some cleaners because of its solvent properties. Keeping the chains long was important because when you recycle the ma
  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @03:23PM (#14877595) Journal
    If one wants to do something useful with all the excess styrofoam, consider that it is basically a long-chain alkane with phenyl group side chains, each of which individually look a lot like toluene. Looking at it from the phenyl group's point of view, it's an aromatic ring with a big anonymous alkane hanging off it, which will act perfectly well as an activating, ortho-para directing side chain. Add some nitric and sulfuric acid and you've made poly-TNT. The only reason this is more difficult than the standard stepwise nitration of toluene is that it's hard to find a solvent that dissolves polystyrene but is also fully miscible with the nitric/sulfuric, but there ARE solutions (pardon the pun) to the problem.

    'course these days that's probably not a wise area to be researching.

    While I'm on the subject of getting hydrophobic and hydrophilic things together:
    Know why white bears dissolve in water?
    Coz they're polar!

You are an insult to my intelligence! I demand that you log off immediately.

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