Sustainable 'plastics' are on the horizon

December 24, 2018, Tel Aviv University
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A new Tel Aviv University study describes a process to make bioplastic polymers that don't require land or fresh water—resources that are scarce in much of the world. The polymer is derived from microorganisms that feed on seaweed. It is biodegradable, produces zero toxic waste and recycles into organic waste.

The invention was the fruit of a multidisciplinary collaboration between Dr. Alexander Golberg of TAU's Porter School of Environmental and Earth Sciences and Prof. Michael Gozin of TAU's School of Chemistry. Their research was recently published in the journal Bioresource Technology.

According to the United Nations, plastic accounts for up to 90 percent of all the pollutants in our oceans, yet there are few comparable, environmentally friendly alternatives to the material.

"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. Golberg. "Plastic is also produced from , which has an 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 , which many countries, including Israel, don't have.

"Our new process produces 'plastic' from marine microorganisms that completely recycle into organic waste."

The researchers harnessed microorganisms that feed on seaweed to produce a bioplastic polymer called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). "Our raw material was multicellular seaweed, cultivated in the sea," Dr. Golberg says. "These algae were eaten by single-celled microorganisms, which also grow in very salty water and produce a polymer that can be used to make bioplastic.

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

According to Dr. Golberg, the new study could revolutionize the world's efforts to clean the oceans, without affecting arable land and without using fresh water. "Plastic from fossil sources is one of the most polluting factors in the oceans," he says. "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.

"We are now conducting to find the best bacteria and algae that would be most suitable for producing polymers for bioplastics with different properties," he concludes.

Explore further: Video: Using microbes to generate bioplastics

More information: Supratim Ghosh et al, Macroalgal biomass subcritical hydrolysates for the production of polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) by Haloferax mediterranei, Bioresource Technology (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.biortech.2018.09.108

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17 comments

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Dug
1 / 5 (4) Dec 24, 2018
Why not harvest the 617,000 sq. miles of "free" plastic floating in the Pacific? Bioplastics - even from sea weed still require lots of fossil energy to harvest, process, and refine.
Da Schneib
1 / 5 (4) Dec 24, 2018
Neato, so now we can get stuff that costs a lot of money and it disappears after a few years.

Does anyone see the economic implications of this? It's built-in inflation.
ddaye
5 / 5 (2) Dec 24, 2018
Why not harvest the 617,000 sq. miles of "free" plastic floating in the Pacific? Bioplastics - even from sea weed still require lots of fossil energy to harvest, process, and refine.

I think that square-mile figure is the reason why not, probably prohibitively costly in time and fuel. If it's done via sail or solar power it would at least solve the energy cost of harvesting across hundreds of thousands of square miles.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (6) Dec 24, 2018
Why not harvest the 617,000 sq. miles of "free" plastic floating in the Pacific?

Because that's all kinds of plastics mixed together (PET, PVC, PS, PP, ... ).
To make a product you only want one single type of plastic because the product has certain requirements (e.g. how stable it is against UV, how sanitary it is in the food sector, how sturdy it is in the automotive sector, etc. )
Notice how recycled plastic products are products where a variation in composition doesn't matter.

Neato, so now we can get stuff that costs a lot of money and it disappears after a few years.

Since plastic products are mostly short-term use anyhow (plastic bottles, packaging and the like) - where's the problem? I could see a lot of products that could be made from this stuff. Certainly not everything, but every bit that doesn't end up in a permanent landfill or in the ocean and as part of our food chain helps.
Thorium Boy
1 / 5 (8) Dec 25, 2018
They've been talking about bio-bags for 20 years. Nothing. No one is going to pay $1.00 bag for a shopping bag. Bio-plastics could carry contamination. re-usable shopping bags have already shown to be easily contaminated with bacteria from foodstuffs.
ET3D
5 / 5 (6) Dec 25, 2018
They've been talking about bio-bags for 20 years. Nothing. No one is going to pay $1.00 bag for a shopping bag.


Considering that people are already paying per bag in many places and that bans on plastic bags and the like will go into effect in a few years, I'm sure that people will be happy to have alternatives.
Bert_Halls
3 / 5 (4) Dec 25, 2018
It's just Thorium Boy earning his paycheck as an oil shill.
Da Schneib
3 / 5 (2) Dec 25, 2018
Y'know, paper bags are inherently biodegradable.

Just sayin'.
snoosebaum
1 / 5 (2) Dec 25, 2018
'Why not harvest the 617,000 sq. miles of "free" plastic floating in the Pacific? ''

''experts'' will always nix any solution
Da Schneib
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 25, 2018
Actually I think we had an article on here in the last month and it's not commercially viable to harvest the plastics.
Thorium Boy
1 / 5 (2) Dec 25, 2018
They've been talking about bio-bags for 20 years. Nothing. No one is going to pay $1.00 bag for a shopping bag.


Considering that people are already paying per bag in many places and that bans on plastic bags and the like will go into effect in a few years, I'm sure that people will be happy to have alternatives.


Yes, reluctantly about $0.05 per bag.
Thorium Boy
1 / 5 (2) Dec 25, 2018
It's just Thorium Boy earning his paycheck as an oil shill.


Shills get paid, I'm not workiing for them. I just hate left-wing social engieering. Also, yes, lets go back to paper, because it's the only real choice. Cut down trees, force people to try to carry heavy items in bags that rip and get sodden and weak from slight rain. Do you leftists ever think things through?
Thorium Boy
1 / 5 (2) Dec 25, 2018
It's just Thorium Boy earning his paycheck as an oil shill.


Shills get paid, I'm not workiing for them. I just hate left-wing social engieering. Also, yes, lets go back to paper, because it's the only real choice. Cut down trees, force people to try to carry heavy items in bags that rip and get sodden and weak from slight rain. Do you leftists ever think things through?
humy
5 / 5 (4) Dec 26, 2018
...I just hate left-wing social engieering....
Thorium Boy

-then I have some really great news for you! That particular kind of left-wing social engieering you speak of doesn't exist, has never existed, and will never exist. And left-wing social engieering of any kind generally doesn't come with a concern for the environment!

humy
5 / 5 (3) Dec 26, 2018
...and MORE great news!
There is no world wide communist conspiracy by nearly all scientists to make us all poor! (and for absolutely no reason whatsoever) And there has never been or will be!
In fact, and here I let you in on a global secret, most scientists aren't even communist!
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Dec 26, 2018
There is no world wide communist conspiracy by nearly all scientists to make us all poor! (and for absolutely no reason whatsoever) And there has never been or will be!

If there is, then it would mean the smartest people on the planet have made the most ineffective conspiracy, ever - because I have yet to see a single scientist being filthy rich.

Not a single one the world over has managed that (or get famous, or pull in all the girls, or get in a position of power, or ...)

Seriously: what are these "conspiracy scientists" supposed to get out of it?

The idea of a worldwide scientist conspiracy is the single dumbest delusion anyone has ever dreamed up.
Flat earthers are friggin' geniuses by comparison.
snoosebaum
not rated yet Dec 28, 2018
''The idea of a worldwide scientist conspiracy is the single dumbest delusion anyone has ever dreamed up ''

9800 climate scientists agree

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