Scientists Report Advances in ‘Greener’ Plastic

Scientists at Imperial College London report that they have invented a polymer, made from non-food sources, that could be used in packaging and then tossed into compost piles or landfills, where it degrades upon contact with water.

The scientists said they worked three and a half years on a biodegradable polymer that is made from sugars known as lignocellulosic biomass, derived from fast-growing trees, grasses, and agricultural and food wastes.

Lead researcher Charlotte Williams said the team accomplished its goal of producing the polymer from non-food sources and using small amounts of water in the process — an advantage over another biorenewable plastic, polylactide, whose manufacture requires large amounts of water and energy.

Williams said the new polymer could be especially useful in producing disposable packaging material, much of which is now made from plastic that has accumulated in massive quantities on land and in the sea across the planet.

In addition to the environmental benefits, Williams said the new polymer — which could be produced on a large scale within two to five years — makes economic sense, as plastics account for seven percent of global oil and gas consumption.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

photo: Sylvain Bourdos

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