Polycarbonate, a long-lasting, impact-resistant form of plastic used in making CDs, smartphones, baby bottles, and other food containers has recently come under increased scanner over the negative effects it can have on human health and environment.
Studies have found that a chemical used in the manufacture of polycarbonate — bisphenol A (BPA) can leak trace amounts from containers into foods and beverages, possibly raising the risk of cancer, and over the period of time, the same plastic also discharges industrial toxin.
However, a discovery by scientists at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, USA, the same unit of the company that created the Watson supercomputer, has found a one-step chemical process that converts polycarbonates into plastics safe for water purification, fiber optics and medical equipment.
In the study, the researchers added a fluoride reactant, a base that was similar to baking powder, and heat to old CDs to create a new plastic that's strong enough to prevent the decomposition process that causes BPA leaching.
"While preventing these plastics from entering landfills, we simultaneously recycle the substance into a new type of plastic - safe and strong enough for purifying our water and producing medical equipment," said Jeanette Garcia, PhD, research staff member, IBM Research, in a statement.
IBM estimates that 2.7 million tonnes of polycarbonate are made around the world each year, and the discovery is supposed to be an environmental win on many fronts.
"We now have a new way of recycling to improve how this prominent substance impacts the world’s health and environment," said Gavin O. Johns, a research staff member at IBM Research.