Breakthrough polymer paves way for truly sustainable bioplastics

Scientists with Tel Aviv University have developed a new method for producing biodegradable polymers that don't require fresh water or plants. The technology paves the way for future biodegradable, sustainable plastics that don't use up vital — and increasingly limited — resources while also addressing the most pervasive pollutants. At the heart of the technology are microorganisms that feast on seaweed.

Plastic is found in every part of society, and as a consequence, it can also be found in just about every part of the planet. Plastics take hundreds of years to decay, the result being mass quantities of plastic bottles, packaging, and other waste that clogs up bodies of water, kills wildlife, and more. Though biodegradable plastics have been pursued as the solution, they come with their own issues — namely the use of land or freshwater.

The new bioplastic polymer technology, which was recently detailed in the journal Bioresource Technology, addresses both of those issues by producing a biodegradable product that is recycled into organic waste with no toxic byproduct.

Bioplastics are a type of plastic that don't utilize petroleum and that break down faster than traditionally used plastic products. The production of these bioplastics, however, usually required either land to grow plants and/or large quantities of fresh water, which has its own environmental impact.

The newly detailed method sidesteps both issues, instead using microorganisms to produce a bioplastic polymer named polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). The technology differs from some existing methods by having the microorganisms feed on algae cultivated in the sea rather than plants that would require fresh water and land.

Talking about that is Tel Aviv University's Dr. Alexander Golberg, who said:

Plastic from fossil sources is one of the most polluting factors in the 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.