A scientist at Virginia Tech has discovered a way to convert polyethylene, a common plastic, into soap. Guoliang Liu found that polyethylene is similar in structure to the fatty acid in soap, making it possible to convert one into the other. Liu developed a method using temperature-gradient thermolysis to break down polyethylene into short-chain polyethylene, or waxes, which can then be turned into soap through a process called saponification. This breakthrough could lead to a new method of upcycling low-value plastic waste into high-value commodities. The research was published in the journal Science.