A study published in the journal Science Advances details a new method for easily converting Super Glue into a plastic that can be recycled repeatedly. And while it might have the potential to replace nonbiodegradable plastics, some polymers experts warn that it could introduce different kinds of pollution in the manufacturing process. Super Glue reacts with a lot of different materials, says Allison Christy, a graduate research assistant at Boise State University in Idaho and lead author of the new study. This is ideal if you’re creating an adhesive because it would produce short polymers that increase elasticity. For plastic-making, however, you need long polymers to maintain durability.
The first challenge with Super Glue is stretching out its reaction time. To create long polymers, you need a longer reaction time. The authors screened for weakly bonding substances (known as initiators in chemistry) and co-reactants that would not produce a new compound once it made contact with Super Glue. They ultimately settled on acetone as their initiator with a small amount of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), a colorless liquid that dissolves most organic and inorganic compounds.
Another issue the team needed to address was where to set off the reaction. Because Super Glue sticks to mostly everything, they needed a container that would not react with ethyl cyanoacrylate and let them get the plastic out without sticking to the walls. The solution: Tupperware. “Super Glue doesn’t stick well to things like polypropylene and polyethylene,” which are the main plastics in Tupperware, says Scott Phillips, a professor of materials science and engineering at Boise State University and author on the study.