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

iStock
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]

How to Watch Flowers Bloom Around the World From Home

Win McNamee, Getty Images
Win McNamee, Getty Images

Events around the world have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but spring is progressing as scheduled. If you're not lucky enough to see flowers blooming from your window or on safe walks outdoors, you can still watch them from your home.

Web cameras installed around the world are recording flower blooms in real time for the internet to see. Botanical events that would attract huge crowds in a typical year can now be viewed in solitude. If you're missing the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., you can tune into the Bloom Cam, which provides a live look at the National Mall's Tidal Basin as it bursts into color.

The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx is closed to the public, but its annual orchid show has been reimagined as a virtual tour. In the video below, senior orchid curator Marc Hachadourian takes viewers through the living exhibit and shares facts about how it was made.

Virtual flower watching is also an opportunity to see blooms on the other side of the globe. Japan's famous sakura trees are now accessible through livestreams.

Your digital nature tours don't need to end with the spring flower blooms. Here are five national parks you can explore online.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Beyond Tiger King: 10 Fascinating Animal Documentaries You Can Stream Right Now

A scene from Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit (2018).
A scene from Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit (2018).
Markham Street Films

By now, you've probably already binged Netflix's bewilderingly bonkers docuseries Tiger King (2020). If you're ready to dive deeper into the animal kingdom, there are plenty more documentaries out there. From wildcats to whales, these 10 films will take you on a cinematic adventure around the world, introducing you to captivating creatures and the people who love them.

1. The Tigers of Scotland (2017)

The Tigers of Scotland (2017) brings viewers as up close and personal as possible with a small but mighty feline: the Scottish wildcat. The film delves into the efforts to conserve the disappearing Highland tiger, as well as the history and mythology surrounding the UK’s only “big cat.”

Watch it: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes

2. Ghost of The Mountains (2017)

This 2017 Disneynature documentary will transport you to the world’s highest plateau in search of a family of snow leopards. These cats are famously tough to find, so Ghost of the Mountains offers viewers behind-the-scenes footage of what it’s like to track the elusive beasts.

Watch it: Netflix, Google Play, Youtube

3. Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit (2018)

This delightful documentary takes you deep into the competitive cat show circuit. Both charming and at times cutthroat, the film brings viewers on a journey to see which of the many cool cats and kittens will be crowned Canada's top cat.

Watch it: Netflix

4. Kingdom of the White Wolf (2019)

Follow along as a National Geographic explorer and photographer embeds with a white wolf pack in the high Arctic. These wild wolves aren't used to seeing people, giving the filmmakers—and audience—an intimate window into the pack's daily lives and familial bonds. In addition to showcasing captivating footage of the animals, the three-part docuseries also features sweeping views of the starkly beautiful Ellesmere Island.

Watch it: Disney+, YouTube TV

5. Dogs (2018)

This docuseries, which highlights various dogs and their humans from around the world, celebrates the bond between people and their pups. But it’s more than just a montage of feel-good moments about humankind’s best friend: Each episode tells a broader tale about the human condition, crafting an emotional narrative that pulls at the heartstrings like a puppy tugging on a toy.

Watch it: Netflix

6. Dancing with the Birds (2019)

These birds will put your dad moves to shame. Watch the male avian performers shimmy, shake, and flash their feathers while attempting to woo their female mates. The documentary, narrated by Stephen Fry, offers a colorful look at the wonderfully wacky world of bird mating rituals.

Watch it: Netflix

7. Honeyland (2019)

This documentary follows Hatidze Muratova, one of the last wild beekeepers in a remote village in North Macedonia. She lives with her ailing mother, nurturing a traditional way of beekeeping passed down through the generations and striking a balance between making a living and maintaining ecological balance. But everything changes when a nomadic family settles nearby, threatening Muratova’s way of life. The resulting story is both sweet and stinging.

Watch it: Hulu, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play

8. Virunga (2014)

This 2014 documentary highlights the park rangers fighting to protect the Congo’s Virunga National Park, home to the critically endangered mountain gorilla. As poaching and oil exploration threaten the park, the rangers and conservationists risk their lives to guard the rare creatures that inhabit it.

Watch it: Netflix

9. Harry & Snowman (2016)

In the 1950s, Harry deLayer bought Snowman, a run-down plow horse destined for slaughter, for just $80 at an auction. Within months, the two were taking the show jumping circuit by storm, launching both horse and rider to new heights. This documentary tells the story of the friendship the two developed, and chronicles their lives both in and out of the competitive spotlight.

Watch it: Amazon Prime

10. The Whale and the Raven (2019)

The waters around Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest are a haven for whales, who feed and find refuge in the quiet channels. With stunning visuals, this documentary highlights the tension of a community’s push to protect its wild places against the pressures of the ever-encroaching natural gas industry.

Watch it: Amazon Prime

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