Tag Archives: Recycling

Recycling: Turning Styrofoam to Glue

Today is America Recycles Day, which you can learn more about recycling here. We wanted to take this opportunity to learn something cool about one of the most heinous landfill residents: styrofoam. This lightweight convenient insulating material has found many uses, from takeout containers to disposable coolers. Unfortunately, to go along with all of its good qualities, it has one bad one: it doesn’t degrade naturally. This means that when it goes in the trash, it will stay there for a very long time. In addition, styrofoam is about 95% air, each pound that is disposed of will be taking up a lot of space–possibly up to 30% of the total volume–in our garbage for the foreseeable future.

1024px-acetone-3d-vdwFortunately, not everyone is resigned to this fate. Instead, people have been trying to come up with a better way to deal with this. One of these ways uses acetone. Acetone is an organic molecule made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, and is the simplest member of the ketone family. On the right is a picture of acetone at the atomic level.

Most of the uses of acetone revolve around a single property: it is an excellent solvent. This means that it does a great job of dissolving many different kinds of molecules, making it useful as a cleaning agent in chemistry labs and a remover of nail polish.

dissolve

Styrofoam is made of polystyrene, which in itself means a chain of styrene. Styrene is a relatively simple organic molecule that can easily bind with itself. When it comes in contact with acetone, the polystyrene chains fall apart. However, the acetone doesn’t actually dissolve the styrene molecules. If it did, all of the styrofoam would disappear into the acetone, but instead we end up with this.

glue

Depending on your point of view, this probably looks like some combination of gross, scientific, and fun. Additionally, it is also useful. Using solvents like acetone to break down styrofoam can repurpose it to being a rather useful adhesive. Being able to use styrofoam as a glue is a terrific alternative to having it fill up or landfills.

Please don’t rush out and try to do this on your own, as acetone is dangerous and also not the right chemical to do this properly. To learn more about this method go here.

Crush A Can Day…Recycle!

Each day, a typical person generates over 4 pounds of waste. Over half ends up at the dump. Future anthropologists will learn a lot about the millennial world from its landfills. In 500 years, disposable diapers will just be starting to decompose, and the remains of today’s plastic bags will still be present twice as far in the future! Long as it sounds, that’s a blink of an eye in trash history. Styrofoam and glass are projected to last for over a million years.

decompositionTime

Besides preserving humanity’s leftovers for generations to come, landfills are sinks for valuable resources. Between 1993 and 2003, we scrapped over $12 billion in aluminum cans. Recycled, the average can is reusable within 6 weeks, but once it hits a landfill, it’s doomed to centuries of slow decay. Saving aluminum and other waste is an easy, satisfying way to make a significant contribution to our planet’s health. Before you send your used cans to their (hopefully not final) destination, give this fun, simple DIY experiment a try. All you need is an empty soda can, a stove or hot plate, tongs, and a container of cool water.

CanCrushDay1

Add water to a soda can until it just barely covers the bottom, then bring it to a boil. As the water evaporates, the air in the can expands due to its high temperature. The gas expands so much that some is pushed out of the container along with steam from the boiling liquid. Carefully, using tongs, pick up the can and invert it into the second container. The cool water causes the temperature in the can to drop dramatically. Cooled gas molecules inside the can exert less pressure on its walls as they slow down and condense. Atmospheric pressure compensates for the partial vacuum by crushing the can! cancrush3

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