Seaweed Plastic Bags? Bacteria Could Make it Happen

In 2018, research on the images captured in the bottom of the Marianne Trench, the deepest seabed in the world, revealed plastic waste at a 3,300 feet depth. Victor Vescovo, an entrepreneur exploring that underwater region, also reported the presence of a plastic bag in the area. There is another eloquent fact, the UN forecasts that, by the year 2050, there will be more plastics than fish in the oceans. Thus, together with global warming, the proliferation of plastics and microplastics has become one of the most pressing environmental issues. And, although it can allay the problem, recycling is by no means a definite solution. Only the development of innovative materials can tackle it efficiently. Ironically, the remedy may be found just where this type of pollution is most severe. A group of scientists from Tel Aviv University has undertaken a technology project that intends to create a new generation of seaweed-based bioplastics.

“Scientists from Tel Aviv University are developing a new generation of seaweed-based bioplastics.”

In order to achieve it, they have resorted to Haloferax mediterranei bacteria that feed on seaweed carbohydrates, metabolizing them as polyhydroxy carbonates, a type of natural polyester produced through bacteria, usually by the fermentation of sugars or lipids. Polyhydroxy carbonates are one of the most promising areas of research, as the resulting bioplastics are fully biodegradable while producing zero toxic waste. So far, the production of this type of bioplastics required food crops at the expense of food production. It is a similar situation to biofuels, as using food plants to produce power or plastics can affect malnourished populations and trigger a surge in prices. Luckily, seaweeds are an abundant resource that does not require any farming technology, which is the main reason why the Israeli researchers have chosen it to develop these new bioplastics that degrade over the course of a year.

The technology research is still in progress, as the scientists are still looking into techniques to develop plastics with specific qualities, in order to manufacture plastic bags or different types of food packaging.

What other raw materials can be used to produce bioplastics?

The Israeli researchers are not the only scientists devoted to developing new biodegradable plastics. Potato starch-based plastic bags are one of the most usual options, while cassava starch-based plastic, obtained from a root used in the African, Latin American and Asian cuisines, is another contender. Both, however, are used for nutritional ends. Thus, SoluBag could be one of the most interesting technology solutions. This water-soluble bag developed by a company from Chile uses limestone as its basic compound. Their bags dissolve in cold water in less than five minutes, a substantially shorter timeframe than the four hundred years required by some petroleum-based plastics to fully degrade. In addition to this, carbon, an entirely harmless compound, is the only byproduct of the SoluBag once it is dissolved.

Source: National Geographic, Science Direct

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