New bioplastic is made from waste, and biodegrades in 12 months
Two of the main problems with traditional plastics are the facts that they're made from non-renewable petroleum, and they stick around for centuries once discarded. A new alternative, however, is made from existing waste, and should biodegrade within a year.
In order to produce the "eco-friendly" plastic, scientists at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology started with industrial waste such as fats, that contained a high level of residual minerals.
Within a fermentation chamber, genetically modified bacteria then metabolized those minerals, converting them into a biopolymer known as polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB). The microbes stored it in their cells in liquid form, as an energy source.
Once the PHB had subsequently been dissolved out of the bacteria, it was mixed with proprietary chemical additives – among other things, these caused the PHB to harden much more quickly than would otherwise have been the case. What resulted was a biologically derived polyester that is said to exhibit properties similar to those of polypropylene.
That said, if the PHB-based polyester is placed in an ordinary landfill, naturally occurring micro-organisms will reportedly break it down completely within six to 12 months.
Of course, it's still best if plastic products are reused or recycled. To that end, Fraunhofer suggests that the new material be used mainly in single-use, disposable products.