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Reversible glue could help make plastic bottles easier to recycle

Researchers at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom have invented a reversible glue. It’s based on the same forces that make a balloon clingy after it’s been rubbed on hair or clothing.

As explained in a paper published in Angewandte Chemie (Applied Chemistry) International Edition, the glue is a water-based emulsion — essentially a paint — that un-bonds when exposure to highly acidic or highly alkaline water.

Until then, electrically charged long-chain molecules, or polymers, keep its electrostatic forces alive.

The inventors say the glue could offer a greener way to attach and remove labels from recyclable bottles.

Labels that are incompatible with a bottle’s plastic, or that are hard to remove, can contaminate the recycling process and render it more expensive and inefficient.

According to voluntary county reports collected by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, in 2019, the state recycled more than 5,000 tons of plastic.

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Nicholas Gerbis joined KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk in 2016. A longtime science, health and technology journalist and editor, his extensive background in related nonprofit and science communications inform his reporting on Earth and space sciences, neuroscience and behavioral health, and bioscience/biotechnology.Apart from travel and three years in Delaware spent earning his master’s degree in physical geography (climatology), Gerbis has spent most of his life in Arizona. He also holds a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Arizona State University’s Cronkite School and a bachelor’s degree in geography (climatology/meteorology), also from ASU.Gerbis briefly “retired in reverse” and moved from Arizona to Wisconsin, where he taught science history and science-fiction film courses at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is glad to be back in the Valley and enjoys contributing to KJZZ’s Untold Arizona series.During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gerbis focused almost solely on coronavirus-related stories and analysis. In addition to reporting on the course of the disease and related research, he delved into deeper questions, such as the impact of shutdowns on science and medicine, the roots of vaccine reluctance and the policies that exacerbated the virus’s impact, particularly on vulnerable populations.