Biodegradable plastic containers a huge step in mitigating plastic pollution crisis

The mass manufacture of biodegradable plastic cups, cartons, bottles and wrappers is going to solve the plastic pollution puzzle. Scientists have been puzzling how to stop this horrendous blighting of the oceans. It appears that the British are leading the way (as usual). The UK has the best scientists in the world. Other countries try and poach them but we keep on producing them.

Plastic pollution
Plastic pollution. Photo in the public domain.

Polymateria, a British firm “spun out of” Imperial College London, chaired by the former Marks & Spencer boss, Mark Bolland is behind a biodegradable plastic which contains a new additive. It’s a breakthrough which has got people excited because it should, and I certainly hope it does, mitigate the ecological disaster that is taking place before our eyes and which can only get worse in the form of more mass plastic pollution.

The company has demonstrated that a rigid plastic container made with this magical additive takes 336 days to biodegrade into: carbon dioxide, water and biomass. Plastic film takes 226 days. I am feeling optimistic. It is the first time I have felt like that about the environment for quite a long time.

The coronavirus pandemic caused a 20% surge in the volume of plastic waste produced by the UK during the lockdown. And in order to maintain good hygiene, the war against single use plastic has been put on hold. The chief executive of the company said that a third of all plastic found its way into nature.

Normally, plastic bottles take 450 years to biodegrade. It can take up to a thousand years to decompose in landfills and the plastic bags that we produce by the billions take 10 to 20 years to decompose.

It has been estimated that by 2040, based on current trends, 1.3 billion tonnes of plastic will be dumped into the environment according to an academic study funded by the US-based Pew Charitable Trust.

Niall Dunne, the chief executive of Polymateria, said that with respect to polypropylene and polyethylene made with the new additive, “The packaging has a recycle date by which it will start the process of returning to nature”.

The sportswear group Puma are destined to be the first business to incorporate the new additive in their production of 160 million plastic bags that they use annually. They will be on sale in Southeast Asia in September and in Britain in 2021. Their shopping bags will be programmed to biodegrade after 18 months.

With respect to ice cream wrappers the biodegradable time is shorter. The date may be precise and stamped on the packaging. There is a fear that habitual litter louts might behave even worse once they know that the plastic they throw away in public places biodegradable.

In a neat touch, the biodegrading process is only triggered by a combination of UV light, moisture and microbes present outdoors. Therefore forgotten packages will not biodegrade inside the home.

The additive which makes the plastic biodegrade can be applied within existing manufacturing processes and therefore there is little obstacle to its introduction.

It’s fantastic news. It’s just wonderful news. Someone’s going to become a billionaire on the back of this. At least the environment will be protected at last although it will take up to a thousand years for the existing plastic to biodegrade.

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Post Category: Conservation