Monday, January 28, 2019

Sustainable Way to Create Plastics From Seaweed

Everyone knows plastic is bad for the environment. That’s why bioplastics – plastics made from renewable sources like plants or old waste – were invented. But these bioplastics can’t be created everywhere since the plants they use require fresh water, a scarce resource in many countries.

One such country is Israel, which does not have a surplus of fresh water. Other countries suffering from the same problem are China and India, whose size and resulting plastic consumption are very bad news for the planet.

This is the problem researchers from Tel Aviv University wished to solve by developing bioplastic polymers derived from microorganisms that feed on seaweed. These can be bred in salty seawater without impinging on scarce freshwater resources. The result is a biodegradable polymer that produces completely non-toxic organic waste.

Plastics take hundreds of years to decay. So bottles, packaging, and bags create plastic “continents” in the oceans, endanger animals and pollute the environment. A partial solution to the plastic epidemic is bioplastics, which don’t use petroleum and degrade quickly. But bioplastics also have an environmental price: growing the plants or the bacteria to make the plastic requires fertile soil and fresh water, which many countries, including Israel, don’t have.

New process developed in Israel produces plastic from marine microorganisms that completely recycle into organic waste. To do so, the researchers harnessed microorganisms that feed on seaweed to produce a bioplastic polymer called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA).

There are already factories that produce bioplastic in commercial quantities, but they use plants that require agricultural land and fresh water. The new process will enable countries with a shortage of fresh water, such as Israel, China, and India, to switch from petroleum-derived plastics to biodegradable plastics.

Plastic from fossil sources is one of the most polluting factors in the oceans. Israeli researchers 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. This study could revolutionize the world’s efforts to clean the oceans without affecting arable land and without using fresh water.

Further research will focus on finding the best bacteria and algae combination that would be most suitable for producing polymers for bioplastics with different properties.

Source: Israel21c