This LiveScience.com article starts with a joke better left to the Reader's Digest people, but the substance of the piece is quite interesting. "Kevin O'Connor of University College Dublin and his colleagues heated polystyrene foam, the generic name for Styrofoam, to convert it to styrene oil. [...] the scientists fed this styrene oil to the soil bacteria Pseudomonas putida, which converted it into biodegradable plastic known as PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates)." It's about time because 2.3 million tons of polystyrene foam (styrofoam) are dumped in US landfills each year, and over 14 million metric tons of the stuff are produced annually around the world. Since the foam is very light (95% air), 14 million tons takes up lots of volume.According to the Polystyrene Packaging Council's website (who knew such an organization existed?), it is currently not economical to recycled styrofoam because "the resulting product is a lower grade styrene that is not a reasonable substitute for freshly produced polystyrene." That's the beauty of the new recycling-with-bacteria process: It adds value. "Now you are taking a non-recyclable product and making it into a recyclable, biodegradable product with alternative uses, like biomedical applications."
"The process will be detailed in the April 1 issue of the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology."