Even though you might send all your used glass containers to the recycling center, only a fraction of them actually get remade into glass. A lot of glass gets shipped to China for processing and ends up being hard filler for construction projects. Now a scientist in the UK has discovered a simple way to turn ground up glass into tobermorite – a compound that sucks up toxic materials from groundwater. In the future, your old wine bottles could become the key to cleaning up polluted waterways.

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Heavy metal-contaminated land and groundwater are global problems, arising from industrial and military activities and also from the natural leaching of heavy metal-bearing minerals,” said Nichola Coleman of the University of Greenwich, the scientist responsible for the new material. The tobermorite that Coleman has created currently has a rather slow uptake rate for toxic chemicals — it sucks up lead and cadmium — so she and her team are currently working on increasing the rate of absorption.

The team is suggesting that the material could be used on-site at pollution sources to keep cadmium and lead from seeping further into the groundwater supply. To create the tobermorite, Coleman heated up a mixture of ground cullet (the name for ground up waste glass), lime, and caustic soda to a temperature of 100 degrees Celsius in a sealed teflon container. The team is currently using this proccess to try to create other ion exchange filters from ground up glass that will be able to capture and remove even more toxic materials from waterways.

Via Science Daily