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Busy Little Recyclers: Chemical process, microbial metabolism transform trash-bound plastics

A two-step approach that converts a common plastic into a biodegradable polymer could cut the number of packing peanuts and Styrofoam cups that end up in landfills, researchers suggest.

In 2003, U.S. manufacturers produced more than 2 million tons of polystyrene to make such items as food packaging, packing materials, and furniture. Nearly all of this plastic was discarded, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. There is little demand for recycled polystyrene because it's of lower quality than the polystyrene made directly from petroleum components, notes Kevin E. O'Connor of the University College Dublin.

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