Every year, especially during Plastic-free July, we all get a load of plastics education – such as that ±380m tons of plastic are produced globally, only about 9% of that is recycled; and it takes 400-450 years before plastic starts to decompose. Plastic pollution clogs landfills, rivers and oceans, and causes immense harm to wildlife.
Are bioplastic technologies the solution? Well yes, in that they can break down naturally. However, bioplastics are made from agricultural produce (e.g. sugar cane), which channels agricultural production away from food.
Researchers are turning more attention to waste sources, putting waste material to good use that would need to be disposed of anyway. Some interesting stuff is emerging:
- A biodegradable alternative for polyurethanes has been developed from the waste from fish processing: fish heads, bones, skin and guts
- A lignocellulosic bioplastic can be made from wood powder, which is a common waste product
- A pilot project has converted soy molasses, which cannot be used as food, into lactic acid, which is then polymerised into polylactic acid (PLA).
Plastic waste-to-fuel technology has also received a boost: a new approach applies two catalysts (zeolite and platinum) to single-use plastics which can typically not be recycled; and it works at lower temperatures (previous efforts needed high heat and were very energy intensive). The researchers have reported a maximum liquid yield of 85% of the original material used.
There’s immense potential at both sides of this value chain, from product design to packaging for sale. We’re very much looking forward to further developments in this space.