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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Tech Note/Sticky Solution

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on a new technique to deal with adhesives that clog up paper recycling.


KNOY: Just ahead, a new approach to explaining disease clusters. First, this Environmental Technology Note from Cynthia Graber.


GRABER: The adhesives that binds magazine pages together and makes those address labels stick to envelopes can cause huge problems at the recycling plant. When the sticky stuff goes through the disassembling system, it can clog the screens used to clean the paper. And if any of the goop gets on newly pressed paper during the drying process, it can pull and rip the sheets.

Right now, the only way to get rid of the clumps of adhesive is to wash them away with chemical solvents that recyclers say are difficult to work with and can pollute the environment.

Now, a scientist from Buckman Laboratories in Tennessee says he has a solution. He's uncovered a biological enzyme that breaks down large sticky globules into smaller ones. This way, adhesives wash out of the system in the cleaning stage and don't gum up the works. Eventually, the enzyme breaks down and leaves no environmental pollution.

Right now, this enzyme costs a lot more to use than chemicals. The paper companies that have tested the enzyme say it has led to a significant increase in production, and scientists say they can easily grow the enzymes on an industrial scale. That's this week's Technology Note. I'm Cynthia Graber.

KNOY: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Thelonious Monk, “Sweet and Lovely” SOLO (CBS, 1958)]



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