Today, let's get labconcious about polystyrene, (a.k.a. resin code PS#6) as a resource. It's a wonderful plastic material used every day in cell culture and 96 well plate assays. Its clarity! Its moisture and gas diffusion capabilities! Its rigidity! Need I go on?!
Right now it's important to think about how polystyrene should be recycled. Recycling companies that turn PS#6 into building materials are feeling the pressure from the soft commodities market. The scrap value of all plastics has decreased dramatically over past months. PS#6 has a lower scrap value in general than other plastics, such as Polyethylene Terepphthalate (resin code PET #1). Further, contamination (i.e. paper labels) can turn collected “recyclates” into useless trash. Plastic news has reported that many recycling facilities have recently closed. This means less PS#6 will end up becoming useful again, transformed into a park bench or deck. Chemists have developed a continuous process to turn polystyrenes back into virgin styrene monomers. Unfortunately, this process called “pyroyrolysis” is not economical enough, given its requirement for noble metal catalysts.
There is another feature of polystryene that you might not know about. Polystyrene can be properly incinerated, yielding only water vapor, carbon dioxide byproducts...and heat. Polystyrene actually produces more heat that coal or wood. Thus, a thermal recycling program is environmental responsible and monetarily rewarding. Give yourself credit if research institution already participates in thermal recycling. Tweet “your institution's name #thermocycles” to @labconcious.
Let's appreciate PS#6 as the reusable resource that it is. Too often, polystyrene ends up buried in a landfill or floating in the ocean. Please support polystyrene recycling and thermal recycling efforts.
Thanks for being labconcious!