Polystyrene and PHA

This passage is about polystyrene foam and another plastic called PHA.

Lexile Level: 1120L

Categories: Science & Technology


Polystyrene foam is a synthetic plastic that is used to insulate buildings, cushion fragile equipment inside shipping boxes, and package a wide variety of foods. You most likely know this substance by its trademarked name, Styrofoam. More than three million tons of polystyrene foam are produced every year in the United States. Very little of it is ever recycled. Now scientists may have come one step closer to solving that problem. In Ireland in March 2006, researchers at University College Dublin discovered a kind of bacteria that eats polystyrene foam and turns it into a usable and biodegradable plastic. The scientists first heated the foam to convert it to styrene oil. They then fed the oil to the bacteria, which in turn transformed it into another type of plastic known as PHA. PHA can be used to make plastic forks, it is highly durable, and best of all, it biodegrades in soil and water.


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