Discarded plastic bags are if nothing else, certainly one of the most visible forms of litter out there. While it's possible to recycle some of them into other plastic products, scientists at Australia's University of Adelaide have found another use for them – they can be used in the production of high-value carbon nanotubes.

Researchers in the university's School of Chemical Engineering had already been growing nanotubes in pores on alumina membranes. Each pore had layers of carbon deposited in it, until enough layers had built up to form a tube. Ethanol was being used as the carbon source.

PhD student Tariq Altalhi, however, realized that any carbon source could be used. In an experiment, pieces of non-biodegradable plastic bags were vaporized in a furnace. The resulting carbon proved more than adequate for the task. No toxic catalysts or solvents are required for the process.

Carbon nanotubes have many applications, finding use in items such as solar cells, batteries, stretchable electronics and most recently, the brains of a computer.