Although beautifully wrapped gifts are one of the joys of the holiday season, it is important to think about where that paper is going to go after it is shredded to pieces while being opened. Most wrapping paper can’t be recycled — a lot of the traditional stuff is made out of non-recycleable plastic — so we like to use green alternatives like newspaper or scarves. Well, researchers at the University of Warwick have developed a technology that would make it possible to recycle 100% of plastic wrapping paper by using a new process that can break down even the most complex plastic polymers. At present only 12% of plastic is truly recyclable, so this new technology could potentially remove every piece of plastic from the waste stream and give it all a second — and third and hopefully fourth — life.

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The new recycling process involves pyrolysis — using heat in the absence of oxygen to decompose materials in a “fluidised bed” reactor, which breaks down the plastic polymers into their original monomers. Previously the most complex plastic polymers were unbreakable — and without being broken down they can’t be recycled into new materials. The new process is exciting not just for the wrapping paper world but also for other commonly-used plastics that previously weren’t accepted at recycling plants.

Not only would this technology save a bunch of plastic from the landfill but it would save us all a load of money by re-using already created materials. Though we’d love it if we could all just cut our plastic addiction, we know we have to be realistic for the time being, and recycling technologies, like this one could save us from an ocean full of plastic islands.

Via Science Daily