If you follow environmental news at all, you hear all the time that the world has too much waste plastic and too many greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Some researchers in the UK may have a partial solution for both problems: just put ‘em under the sun for a while!

It’s way more complicated than that, of course, but a team at the University of Cambridge has developed a process that uses solar energy to convert plastic and greenhouse gases into useful products.

The reactor has a plastic compartment and a compartment for greenhouse gases.

Both compartments can absorb light, and they contain catalysts that start chemical reactions.

The end products are new products like fuel.

Now this isn’t the only research project along these lines.

We’ve talked about other efforts to turn waste plastic into jet fuel before, for example.

This one is different because it handles both the greenhouse gases and plastic.

It’s also efficient because it relies on energy from the sun to carry out its reactions.

And the scientists say it’s “tuneable,” which means that by just changing which catalyst they use in the compartments, they can change which product they have at the end of the process.

It’s still early going, of course, but the idea is that someday we’ll have what’s called a circular system for these kinds of products.

Waste plastic won’t really be waste plastic because it will end up being reused in a number of ways.

And if and when we get there, you might expect these researchers to have pretty sunny dispositions…

Here’s another example of that circular system for you: there’s a fancy new wastebasket from the company Vipp, and it’s retro in more ways than one.

Not only is it based on a design from 1939, it’s made from waste plastic and sawdust from the company’s factories.

So, essentially, garbage cans are now keeping garbage out of themselves!

Using solar power to convert plastic and greenhouse gases into sustainable fuels (University of Cambridge)

A trash can made from garbage and recycled materials (Inhabitat)

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Photo by Kiyonobu Ito via Flickr/Creative Commons