"Our approach views plastic waste as a potentially valuable resource for the production of new molecules and materials," said Frank Leibfarth, assistant professor of chemistry in the UNC College of Arts & Sciences. "We hope this method could drive an economic incentive to recycle plastic, literally turning trash into treasure." Leibfarth and UNC-Chapel Hill professor Erik Alexanian, who specializes in chemical synthesis, describe the approach that could close the loop on plastic recycling in the journal Science. Carbon-hydrogen bonds are some of the strongest chemical bonds in nature. The stability makes it difficult to turn natural products into medicines and challenging to recycle commodity plastics. But by modifying the carbon-hydrogen bonds that are common in polymers, the building blocks for modern plastic used in grocery bags, soda and water bottles, food packaging, auto parts and toys, the life span of polymers could be expanded beyond single-use plastic. With a newly identified reagent that could strip hydrogen atoms off medicinal compounds and polymers, the UNC chemists were able to make new bonds in places previously considered unreactive.