Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Compostable plastics have a sweet ending

Date:
February 18, 2010
Source:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Summary:
Food packaging and other disposable plastic items could soon be composted at home along with organic waste, thanks to a new sugar-based polymer. The degradable polymer is made from sugars known as lignocellulosic biomass, which come from non-food crops such as fast-growing trees and grasses, or renewable biomass from agricultural or food waste.

Food packaging and other disposable plastic items could soon be composted at home along with organic waste, thanks to a new sugar-based polymer.

Related Articles


The degradable polymer is made from sugars known as lignocellulosic biomass, which come from non-food crops such as fast-growing trees and grasses, or renewable biomass from agricultural or food waste.

It is being developed at Imperial College London by a team of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council scientists led by Dr Charlotte Williams.

The search for greener plastics, especially for single use items such as food packaging, is the subject of significant research worldwide. "It's spurred on not only from an environmental perspective, but also for economic and supply reasons," explains Dr Williams.

Around 7% of worldwide oil and gas resources are consumed in plastics manufacture, with worldwide production exceeding 150 million tons per year. Almost 99% of plastics are formed from fossil fuels.

"Our key breakthrough was in finding a way of using a non-food crop to form a polymer, as there are ethical issues around using food sources in this way," said Williams. Current biorenewable* plastics use crops such as corn or sugar beet.

"For the plastic to be useful it had to be manufactured in large volumes, which was technically challenging. It took three-and-a-half years for us to hit a yield of around 80% in a low energy, low water use process," explains Dr Williams.

This is significant as the leading biorenewable plastic, polylactide, is formed in a high energy process requiring large volumes of water. In addition, when it reaches the end of its life polylactide must be degraded in a high-temperature industrial facility.

In contrast, the oxygen-rich sugars in the new polymer allow it to absorb water and degrade to harmless products -- meaning it can be tossed on the home compost heap and used to feed the garden.

Because the new polymer can be made from cheap materials or waste products it also stacks up economically compared to petrochemical-based plastics.

The polymer has a wide range of properties, laying the field open for a larger number of applications other than biorenewable plastic packaging. Its degradable properties make it ideal for specialised medical applications such tissue regeneration, stitches and drug delivery. The polymer has been shown to be non-toxic to cells and decomposes in the body creating harmless by-products.

The team -- including commercial partner BioCeramic Therapeutics, which was set up by Professor Molly Stevens and colleagues at Imperial -- are investigating ways of using the material as artificial scaffolds for tissue regeneration. They are also focusing on exploiting the degradable properties of the material to release drugs into the body in a controlled way.

Now the team is focused on developing the specific material characteristics needed for the packaging and medical areas.

"The development of the material is very promising and I'm optimistic that the technology could be in use within two to five years," says Williams, who is already working with a number of commercial partners and is keen to engage others interested in the material.

Background

Biorenewable plastics are materials whose feedstock material (monomer) comes from renewable resources. The leading example is poly(lactic acid) which derives from lactic acid, produced by fermentation of corn or sugar beet. These biorenewable plastics are different to biopolymers, which are naturally occurring polymers such as starch or cellulose (note that these are not plastic materials).

The chemical name for the compostable polymer is Poly(acetic acid-5-acetoxy-6-oxo-tetrahydro-pyran-2-yl-methyl ester) and copoly(lactic acid-ran-acetic acid-5-acetoxy-6-oxo-tetrahydro-pyran-2-yl-methyl ester).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. "Compostable plastics have a sweet ending." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 February 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100217093256.htm>.
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. (2010, February 18). Compostable plastics have a sweet ending. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100217093256.htm
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. "Compostable plastics have a sweet ending." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100217093256.htm (accessed December 18, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Matter & Energy News

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
3D Printed Cookies Just in Time for Christmas

3D Printed Cookies Just in Time for Christmas

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) A tech company in Spain have combined technology with cuisine to develop the 'Foodini', a 3D printer designed to print the perfect cookie for Santa. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ford Expands Air Bag Recall Nationwide

Ford Expands Air Bag Recall Nationwide

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) The automaker added 447,000 vehicles to its recall list, bringing the total to more than 502,000. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Sony Hopes To Make Any Glasses 'Smart'

How Sony Hopes To Make Any Glasses 'Smart'

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Sony's glasses module attaches to the temples of various eye- and sunglasses to add a display and wireless connectivity. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins