A research team led by Professor Greg Liu of Virginia Tech based in Blacksburg, Virginia has developed a revolutionary new method of turning polystyrene – for so long the scourge of the seas – into a valuable chemical compound found naturally in seaweed, simply by exposing it to sunlight.

Found in everything from takeaway containers to TV packaging, polystyrene is so dangerous environmentally as it is recycled very rarely, due to the costly and complex processes involved, as well as the considerable difficulty in collecting it from our seas in the first place.

Now, thanks to a straightforward process that combines UV (ultra-violet) rays and a simple chemical catalyst, polystyrene is now able to be transformed – relatively inexpensively – into a product called diphenylmethane – a molecule commonly found in seaweed that is used in medical drug development, polymer manufacturing and even fragrances and other cosmetics.

Around 1.15 billion polystyrene food and drink containers were sold in England alone in 2018, according to the Government’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

As with most plastics, polystyrene is slow to bio-degrade and has been linked to certain diseases, including some cancers. Perhaps most significantly, it irrefutably causes huge environmental damage – both as a waste product and during its original manufacturing process – and has been found to contribute greatly to global warming.

Science to stem the tide of global marine pollution

Polystyrene is produced by blasting plastic pellets with steam until they expand and become small white balls, which are then bound together. Sales of single-use polystyrene food containers have been banned in the Republic of Ireland, India, Iceland and Australia (amongst other nations), yet still they remain in circulation in the vast majority of the world’s most developed countries.

Polystyrene is considered to essentially survive ‘indefinitely’ yet, when exposed continually to significant quantities of UV light, it is widely known that it yellows and weakens. What is less well known is that polystyrene also degrades chemically, which is vital for the all-important DPM molecule to be extracted and processed.

Ocean debris, litter-strewn beaches and overflowing landfill sites; these are huge and growing concerns for us all. As responsible citizens of the world, we are all comfortable throwing a glass jar, a tin can or even a cardboard box into our recycling bins. With plastics however, it is very different.

Not every recycling plant in the world is equipped – either technologically or financially – to handle and process every type of plastic, particularly one as complex as polystyrene. Therefore, society – as well as science – must also play its part in helping to eliminate the threat of polystyrene-related pollution for future generations.

Committed to driving optimum environmental stability

Here at Turner & Coates, we are one of the world’s most tried and trusted Management Systems and auditing providers, serving a solid and growing customer base and benefiting from a proven track record in this vital area.

One of our key specialisms is the implementation and ongoing maintenance of the ‘Responsible Care Management System’ (RCMS) – pioneered by the American Chemistry Council – and RC14001, both universally recognised standards for the worldwide chemical industry, helping companies and plants to fall in line with their environmental responsibilities, changing legislations and sustainability commitments.

Established to define the guiding principles of Responsible Care, RCMS monitors and drives continuous operational improvements in seven all-important, central areas:

* community awareness

* distribution

* pollution prevention

* product stewardship

* security

* employee health and safety

* process safety

RCMS implementation commences with the identification, assessment and evaluation of potential risks and hazards inherent within a particular plant or organisation’s day-to-day working practices and procedures.

From this informed starting point, goals are set and objectives targeted in order to effectively manage these intrinsic risks, whilst gathering and then addressing the concerns of employees, communities, customers, suppliers and other key stakeholders.

The holistic nature of RCMS enables these goals and objectives to be properly and evidentially implemented and reached, through the development, documentation and execution of formal policies.

Ongoing performance monitoring, measurement and corrective action are all key to the RCMS certification process. Vital to its success is thorough and dispassionate self-assessment, to ascertain and evidence continuous compliance with changing industry legislation, backed up by a regular review process focused on the suitability, adequacy and effectiveness of a plant’s – or organisation’s – management systems.


Like RCMS, RC14001 is a globally recognised and followed management system, tailored specifically to the worldwide chemical industry. It combines elements of Responsible Care with the central principles of ISO14001, to formalise a robust and reliable structure for standardising and enhancing everyday practices and procedures.

Both systems are a key part of our all-encompassing service portfolio, here at Turner & Coates. We’re one of the most dedicated and experienced management systems consultants and auditing providers, working with the global chemical and ancillary industries.

Our approach is practical, straightforward and unerringly thorough, and we consistently meet – and often surpass – the needs of our global customer base in this key area.

The RCMS/RC14001 systems we prepare and provide are effective, comprehensive and tailored to a company’s specific requirements. From a best practice perspective, multiple management systems within any business or organisational infrastructure should really form one coherent and fully integrated system. This is in order to ensure its ongoing compliance with the latest legislation, standards, processes and procedures pertaining to the industry in which it operates.

Here at Turner & Coates, our approach to achieving the level of seamless integration required is to remove any duplications or outdated practices and ensure that the system in question – whether combined or stand-alone – becomes part and parcel of the day-to-day running of the plant, business or organisation concerned.