Sustainable Bioplastic Doesn't Need Water or Land For Production

Two researchers from Tel Aviv University have outlined a way to develop a bioplastic that needs very little resources.
Jessica Miley

A new research paper from Tel Aviv University details the process to make bioplastic polymers that don't require land or fresh water. The polymer is created from microorganisms that feed on seaweed.

The result is biodegradable, produces zero toxic waste and recycles into organic waste. Plastics account for up to 90 percent of all the pollutants in our oceans and their fabrication is a highly toxic and polluting process.

Genuine plastic alternatives difficult to achieve

However, until now, scientists have struggled to create environmentally friendly alternatives.

"Plastics take hundreds of years to decay. So bottles, packaging, and bags create plastic 'continents' in the oceans, endanger animals and pollute the environment," says Dr. Alexander Golberg of TAU's Porter School of Environmental and Earth Sciences.

"Plastic is also produced from petroleum products, which has an industrial process that releases chemical contaminants as a byproduct." 

"A partial solution to the plastic epidemic is bioplastics, which don't use petroleum and degrade quickly. But bioplastics also have an environmental price: To grow the plants or the bacteria to make the plastic requires fertile soil and freshwater, which many countries, including Israel, don't have. Our new process produces 'plastic' from marine microorganisms that completely recycle into organic waste."

The new method doesn't require heavy resource load

The researchers used microorganisms that feed on seaweed to produce a bioplastic polymer called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). The multicellular seaweed is already produced in the natural environment.

Dr. Goldberg explained that there were already factories that use a similar method, but having a brick and mortar facility requires both access to land and water.

He proposes that countries with limited land and water resources such as Israel, China, and India, to switch from petroleum-derived plastics to biodegradable plastics using this more agile method.

The research has the ability to completely eradicate from fossil fuel sources without having to take over a large amount of space or fresh water supply.

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Plastic pervasive through all oceans

"We have proved it is possible to produce bioplastic completely based on marine resources in a process that is friendly both to the environment and to its residents,” Dr. Goldberg claims.

The research continues to find the best bacteria and algae that would be most suitable for producing polymers for bioplastics with different properties.

Recent research into ocean plastic pollution concluded that there are large amounts of plastic even in the most remote corners of our oceans.

The study from The Chinese Academy of Sciences concludes that the deepest part of the world's oceans, the Mariana Trench is “one of the largest sinks for microplastic debris on Earth".

Their research revealed the awful news that the deeper they looked below sea level the more the level of plastic increased, reaching a peak of 13.51 pieces per liter.

Ocean plastic pollution is incredibly difficult due to the fracturing of plastic into smaller and smaller pieces until it becomes ‘microplastic’ which can be so small it is not discernible to the human eye.

Their research into the bioplastic was recently published in the journal Bioresource Technology.


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