We know that plastic waste is a big problem for the planet – our oceans are becoming clogged with things, and we are rapidly running out of landfill sites. Only 9% is recycled. Burning contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. So could you plant-based alternatives and better recycling to provide a response?
We have learned to rely on plastic is durable, versatile, and so much of our economy depends on it. And for many uses there are simply no commercially biodegradable alternatives.
The humble single use straw is a case in point. Primaplast, leader plastic straw manufacturer, says “green” alternatives cost a hundred times more to do.We are stuck with plastic straws?
Takeaway coffee cups are another example. Only In italy, they throw away about 2.5 billion each year, many of us assume that they are recyclable when they are not, due to a layer of polyethylene, a material that makes the cup waterproof.
A company trying to change this Biome Bioplastics, has developed a fully compostable and recyclable cup with natural materials such as potato starch, corn starch, cellulose, the main constituent of plant cell walls. The most traditional plastics are made from oil.
“Many consumers buy their cups in good faith, thinking they can be recycled,” says Paul Mines, the company’s chief executive.
“But for the most part single-use containers are made from cardboard, glued with the plastic, which makes them unsuitable for recycling. And the covers are most often made of polystyrene which, in addition, can be recycled.” Four ideas for dealing with coffee-cup waste
The company has created a plant-based plastic called bioplastic – that is completely biodegradable and disposable paper recycling or junk food.
Mr. Mines believes this is the first time that a bio-plastic was made from disposable cups and lids that can cope with hot liquids, but that is completely compostable and recyclable. The cup is not on the market yet, but Mr. Mines said to be in talks with a number of retailers.
“It is not possible to get rid of plastic completely,” said Mr Mines,” but instead to replace some of the petroleum-based plastic for biopolymers derived from plant-based sources.”
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A lot of other companies and research institutes, such as the Complete Cycle of Bioplastics, Elk Packing and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, are working on a similar project with biopolymer solutions that are more respectful of the environment, but just as functional as conventional plastic.
And Toby McCartney’s company MacRebur has developed a road surface material consisting of a mixture of asphalt and pellets of recycled plastic. The plastics mix replaces much of the oil-based bitumen traditionally used for the construction of the roads.
“What we are doing is solving two problems of the world with a simple solution of problems that you see with the plastic waste epidemic, and the poor quality of the potholed roads of cars today,” says Mr McCartney.
Since its launch two years ago, the Lockerbie firm hybrid material was used to build roads in all over the UK, from Penrith to Gloucestershire.
More than five billion pieces of plastic floating in our oceans, according to some estimates, can take up to 1,000 years to degrade completely. How it breaks down over time, small pieces end up being eating the sea creatures.
Scientists are particularly concerned about the threat that large filter feeders, such as sharks, whales and stingrays. The toxins in plastic are a serious health risk to them, they warn. Plastic waste has reached the Arctic.
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So governments and businesses are starting to act.
The UNITED kingdom is committed to eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by 2042, while France has introduced a ban on single-use plastic bags. Norway has been operating a plastic bottle deposits for decades – buyers will receive a crown (9p), which deposit a bottle in a collection of the machine. The UNITED kingdom is considering this type.UK ‘could adopt Norway’s system of recycling
And the supermarkets are trying to reduce the amount of packaging in use, with Tesco aiming for everything to be recyclable or compostable by 2025. What is your choice of supermarket is doing to fight the plastic?
But one of the problems with plastics is that many are not easily recyclable.
In addition to San Jose, California, Jeanny Yao and Miranda Wang, both 23, are focused on the fight against the plastic bags and the packaging of a product that is too difficult to recycle.
“These plastics are contaminated and cannot be recycled by the state-of-the-art mechanical recycling,” says Ms Wang.
Their start-up BioCellection breaks down these combinations of plastics into chemicals that can be used as raw materials for a variety of products, from ski jackets to car parts.
“We have identified a catalyst that cut the chains of polymers to enable a smart chain reaction,” he explains.
“Once the polymer is broken into pieces of less than 10 carbon atoms, oxygen from the air, adds to the chain and forms of precious organic acids species that can be collected, purified, and used to make products that we love.”More Technology of Business
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Helen Bird charity Wrap Recycling Action Programme (Wrap) thinks that companies need to be encouraged to use less plastic, coloured, as it is much more difficult to recycle.
“As a general rule, the clearer the plastic, the greater the chance of being recycled into another product or packaging,” he says.
Governments must encourage companies to use recyclable packaging, and to clearly label, for customers, she claims.
In our throwaway society, there were many financial incentives to develop alternative materials that can be composted. And the idea that we are suddenly going to wean ourselves off oil-based plastics is fantasy, most experts agree.
“In the coming decades, the global middle class is expected to double,” says ms Wang. “Even if we are able to develop more compostable plastics, there is no way we can stop the consumption of plastics, which have properties that no other material on earth.”
While the awareness of plastic waste in question is clearly in the growth, no one argues that there is a simple answer to the problem.
The technology of Business to examine how the business is reacting to the increasing governmental and societal pressure for more sustainable plastics in future articles. Follow the Technology and Business editor, Matthew Wall, on Twitter and Facebook
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