Well lookie here, it’s a Christmas miracle of sorts:

A crackerjack team of researchers at the University of Warwick in the U.K. have broken ground on a revolutionary new process that allows for the recycling of all household plastic waste not just the lowly 12 percent (a conservative figure as TreeHugger’s tech guru Jaymi Heimbuch notes) of municipal plastic solid waste that actually winds up being processed for recycling and not landfilled or burnt for fuel. 

And as Science Daily points out, ‘tis the season for impossible-to-recycle plastic waste, given that each gift-opening American consumes 120 grams (about 4 ounces) of plastic wrapping over the holidays with most of it being "challenging" and hard to recycle.

Sounds brilliant, although I’m not going to pretend to understand the science behind the work of the University of Warwick team. For that, I’ll let Science Daily do the explaining:

… University of Warwick engineers have come up with a simple process that can cope with every piece of plastic waste and can even break some polymers such as polystyrene -- back down to its original monomers (styrene in the case of polysterene).

The Warwick researchers have devised a unit which uses pyrolysis (using heat in the absence of oxygen to decompose of materials) in a "fluidised bed" reactor. Tests completed in the last week have shown that the researchers have been able to literally shovel in to such a reactor a wide range of mixed plastics which can then be reduced down to useful products many of which can then be retrieved by simple distillation.

Although the process is being tested on a small-scale right now, project lead and University of Warwick engineering professor Jan Baeyens is thinking big. He explains in an official press release issued by the University of Warwick:
We envisage a typical large-scale plant having an average capacity of 10,000 tonnes of plastic waste per year. In a year tankers would take away from each plant over £5 million worth of recycled chemicals and each plant would save £500,000 a year in landfill taxes alone. As the expected energy costs for each large plant would only be in the region of £50,000 a year the system will be commercially very attractive and give a rapid payback on capital and running costs.
I wouldn’t hold your breath for this radical breakthrough in recycling to be instituted soon, so in the meantime, be sure to practice responsible holiday gift wrapping/packaging recycling. Or better yet, make an effort to bestow your friends and loved ones with handmade gifts presented in reusable, non-plastic gift wrap

Via [Science Daily] via [TreeHugger]

Bottom Image: University of Warwick

MNN homepage slide: ericsnels/Flickr

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Process makes hard-to-recycle holiday plastic waste a thing of the past
Researchers discover a process that allows for the recycling of all household plastic waste, including the 120 grams of plastic-based wrapping waste that each A