This Startup's Simple Chemical Process Could Break Down the Plastics We Can't Recycle

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iStock

When most people think of plastic taking up space in landfills for centuries, they might picture PET, the plastic used to make water bottles. But the thin film plastic used for bags and packaging is far more abundant, and it's much more likely to get contaminated with food and oils, making it harder to salvage for recycling. Now a startup called BioCellection says it's found a way to get more use out of these plastics by melting them down into organic liquids, WIRED reports.

Before most plastic can be recycled, it first needs to be cleaned. In areas with high quality standards, it's not unusual for especially dirty plastics to be thrown away altogether.

The method developed by BioCellection works on film plastic no matter how greasy or sticky it is. As Miranda Wang, one of the company's co-founders, tells WIRED, the plastic just needs to be shredded, loaded into a glass container, and soaked in a clear liquid catalyst at 248°F for the chemical reaction to take place. In the presence of the catalyst, the polymer chains in the plastic break down into many different compounds with two to seven carbons per chain link. The result isn't just melted plastic—it's organic liquids that can be repurposed to make new materials. Adipic acid, one of the resulting compounds, can be used to manufacture nylon clothing and car parts.

As the world's plastic waste continues to pile up, scientists are scrambling for new ways to break it down. In 2016, Japanese scientists discovered a type of bacteria that munches on non-biodegradable plastic, and two years later another team accidentally engineered that same bacteria to be more efficient. BioCellection initially turned to plastic-eating bacteria when looking for ways to break down plastic film, but soon found that the microbes were much more interested in the food contamination. The liquid catalyst presented a way around this.

The new plastic-degrading process isn't ready to be applied on a large scale, but BioCellection plans to have a machine capable of breaking down 5 metric tons of plastic a day ready by 2019. The team is also interested in expanding the method to other materials like rigid polyethylene plastics.

[h/t WIRED]

The 10 Best Air Fryers on Amazon

Cosori/Amazon
Cosori/Amazon

When it comes to making food that’s delicious, quick, and easy, you can’t go wrong with an air fryer. They require only a fraction of the oil that traditional fryers do, so you get that same delicious, crispy texture of the fried foods you love while avoiding the extra calories and fat you don’t.

But with so many air fryers out there, it can be tough to choose the one that’ll work best for you. To make your life easier—and get you closer to that tasty piece of fried chicken—we’ve put together a list of some of Amazon’s top-rated air frying gadgets. Each of the products below has at least a 4.5-star rating and over 1200 user reviews, so you can stop dreaming about the perfect dinner and start eating it instead.

1. Ultrean Air Fryer; $76

Ultrean/Amazon

Around 84 percent of reviewers awarded the Ultrean Air Fryer five stars on Amazon, making it one of the most popular models on the site. This 4.2-quart oven doesn't just fry, either—it also grills, roasts, and bakes via its innovative rapid air technology heating system. It's available in four different colors (red, light blue, black, and white), making it the perfect accent piece for any kitchen.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Cosori Air Fryer; $120

Cosori/Amazon

This highly celebrated air fryer from Cosori will quickly become your favorite sous chef. With 11 one-touch presets for frying favorites, like bacon, veggies, and fries, you can take the guesswork out of cooking and let the Cosori do the work instead. One reviewer who “absolutely hates cooking” said, after using it, “I'm actually excited to cook for the first time ever.” You’ll feel the same way!

Buy it: Amazon

3. Innsky Air Fryer; $90

Innsky/Amazon

With its streamlined design and the ability to cook with little to no oil, the Innsky air fryer will make you feel like the picture of elegance as you chow down on a piece of fried shrimp. You can set a timer on the fryer so it starts cooking when you want it to, and it automatically shuts off when the cooking time is done (a great safety feature for chefs who get easily distracted).

Buy it: Amazon

4. Secura Air Fryer; $62

Secura/Amazon

This air fryer from Secura uses a combination of heating techniques—hot air and high-speed air circulation—for fast and easy food prep. And, as one reviewer remarked, with an extra-large 4.2-quart basket “[it’s] good for feeding a crowd, which makes it a great option for large families.” This fryer even comes with a toaster rack and skewers, making it a great addition to a neighborhood barbecue or family glamping trip.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Chefman Turbo Fry; $60

Chefman/Amazon

For those of you really looking to cut back, the Chefman Turbo Fry uses 98 percent less oil than traditional fryers, according to the manufacturer. And with its two-in-one tank basket that allows you to cook multiple items at the same time, you can finally stop using so many pots and pans when you’re making dinner.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Ninja Air Fryer; $100

Ninja/Amazon

The Ninja Air Fryer is a multipurpose gadget that allows you to do far more than crisp up your favorite foods. This air fryer’s one-touch control panel lets you air fry, roast, reheat, or even dehydrate meats, fruits, and veggies, whether your ingredients are fresh or frozen. And the simple interface means that you're only a couple buttons away from a homemade dinner.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Instant Pot Air Fryer + Electronic Pressure Cooker; $180

Instant Pot/Amazon

Enjoy all the perks of an Instant Pot—the ability to serve as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, yogurt maker, and more—with a lid that turns the whole thing into an air fryer as well. The multi-level fryer basket has a broiling tray to ensure even crisping throughout, and it’s big enough to cook a meal for up to eight. If you’re more into a traditional air fryer, check out Instant Pot’s new Instant Vortex Pro ($140) air fryer, which gives you the ability to bake, proof, toast, and more.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Omorc Habor Air Fryer; $100

Omorc Habor/Amazon

With a 5.8-quart capacity, this air fryer from Omorc Habor is larger than most, giving you the flexibility of cooking dinner for two or a spread for a party. To give you a clearer picture of the size, its square fryer basket, built to maximize cooking capacity, can handle a five-pound chicken (or all the fries you could possibly eat). Plus, with a non-stick coating and dishwasher-safe basket and frying pot, this handy appliance practically cleans itself.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dash Deluxe Air Fryer; $100

Dash/Amazon

Dash’s air fryer might look retro, but its high-tech cooking ability is anything but. Its generously sized frying basket can fry up to two pounds of French fries or two dozen wings, and its cool touch handle makes it easy (and safe) to use. And if you're still stumped on what to actually cook once you get your Dash fryer, you'll get a free recipe guide in the box filled with tips and tricks to get the most out of your meal.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Bella Air Fryer; $52

Bella/Amazon

This petite air fryer from Bella may be on the smaller side, but it still packs a powerful punch. Its 2.6-quart frying basket makes it an ideal choice for couples or smaller families—all you have to do is set the temperature and timer, and throw your food inside. Once the meal is ready, its indicator light will ding to let you know that it’s time to eat.

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Did You Get a Packet of Seeds in the Mail From China? Don't Open It

Mysterious seeds are showing up in mailboxes in at least seven states.
Mysterious seeds are showing up in mailboxes in at least seven states.
temmuzucan/iStock via Getty Images

History will never reflect on the year 2020 as uneventful. For some residents of Washington, Louisiana, Kansas, Virginia, Utah, Arizona, and Ohio, it’s getting a bit weirder than usual.

According to The New York Times, citizens in these states have been receiving unsolicited packets of seeds in the mail that appear to have been shipped from China. Agricultural officials are warning people not to plant the seeds, as they may potentially prove invasive to local plant life.

The seeds typically arrive in a white package, with Chinese lettering and the words “China Post” on the mailer. In Kansas, Washington, and possibly in other locations, the packages were labeled to indicate they contained jewelry.

The peculiar shipments are a problem because there’s no way of knowing whether the seeds contain pathogens harmful to plants or insects that could disrupt local agriculture.

Law enforcement in Ohio has also speculated that the seeds are part of a strategy by unscrupulous online vendors to generate positive reviews for their business or product by shipping inexpensive items, then submitting a rating of the “transaction.” With a positive sales history, these sellers might go on to perpetuate scams.

Whatever the motive, it’s best to dispose of the seeds or contact the relevant state agricultural department or the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

[h/t The New York Times]