New sustainable ‘plastics’ in the offing

Jerusalem: Researchers have developed a new sustainable biopolymer technology to make bioplastic polymers which may one day free the world of its worst pollutant, finds a new study.

The process to make the bioplastic polymers does not require land or fresh water — which are scarce in most parts of the world — and is friendly both to the environment and residents.

The study showed that the new process produces the bioplastic polymer known as polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) from marine microorganisms that feed on seaweed and recycle into organic waste.

In addition, it is biodegradable and produces zero toxic waste, as per the study published in the journal Bioresource Technology.

“Plastics take hundreds of years to decay. So bottles, packaging and bags create plastic ‘continents’ in the oceans, endanger animals and pollute the environment,” said Alexander Golberg, researcher from the Tel Aviv University in Israel.

“Plastic is also produced from petroleum products, which has an industrial process that releases chemical contaminants as a by-product,” said Golberg.

A partial solution to the plastic epidemic is bioplastics, which do not use petroleum and degrade quickly, according to the researchers.

There are already factories that produce this type of bioplastic in commercial quantities. However, they use plants that require agricultural land and fresh water, said the team.

“The process we propose will enable countries with a shortage of fresh water, such as Israel, China and India, to switch from petroleum-derived plastics to biodegradable plastics,” Golberg said.

The new study could revolutionise the world’s efforts to clean the oceans, without affecting arable land and without using fresh water.

“We are now conducting basic research to find the best bacteria and algae that would be most suitable for producing polymers for bioplastics with different properties,” Golberg noted.

Plastic accounts for up to 90 per cent of all the pollutants in our oceans, yet there are few comparable, environmental-friendly alternatives to the material, according to the UN.