Image Credit: MOHAMED ABDULRAHEEM/Shutterstock.com
An environmentally friendly alternative to plastics that breaks down naturally and does not represent a threat to wildlife or human health is needed. UK-based biotechnology and materials company Toraphene believes it has the answer – a biodegradable and compostable material, also named Toraphene.
The Plastic Problem
Plastic presents a huge problem. Since being unveiled over 70 years ago, plastic has become ubiquitous thanks to its low cost and ease of manufacture, as well as its strength, stability and resistance. Plastics are found in carrier bags, food storage, toys and medical equipment.
While one of plastics’ most useful properties is its longevity, this also causes a significant problem. Plastics take hundreds if not thousands of years to degrade, breaking down into ever-smaller pieces. These microplastics threaten the environment and its inhabitants, including humans.
Since they do not naturally occur in the environment, synthetic plastics never really disappear. Almost every piece of plastic ever made – around 8.3 billion tons – still exists in one form or another.
Alternative Plastic Technology
A suitable naturally biodegradable plastic packaging alternative is urgently required, with bioplastics made from renewable resources receiving interest from academics and industry.
Many biodegradable plastic alternatives (bioplastics) have been developed but do not check all the boxes in terms of required functionality, and they still need commercial composting with heat, for example. They are discarded in landfill because local councils responsible for recycling them do not know how to process them.
Amidst a climate crisis, plastic waste is known to be a huge, global problem and many plastic alternatives now exist, so why don’t we see them everywhere?”
Gaute Juliussen, CEO and Founder of Toraphene
Juliussen added, “It’s because they need specific manmade conditions to biodegrade, and many degrade into microplastics, which contaminate our oceans and food chain for centuries.”
Could the Answer be Toraphene?
Toraphene aims to tackle the climate crisis by making plastic packaging and single-use plastics obsolete. The company has developed the world’s first commercially viable, truly biodegradable, and compostable alternative to conventional plastic packaging, which breaks down naturally, without human involvement - even in the ocean.
Toraphene consists of naturally occurring compostable biopolymers reinforced with graphene, an incredibly strong material consisting of carbon arranged in a honeycomb lattice.
The biomaterial – which is patented in the UK, EU, and US - is made via a novel proprietary method and results in something that has all the properties required of a genuine plastic alternative. It is made of natural polymers such as as starch and algae, which are compostable and non-polluting, unlike the synthetic polymers used to make traditional plastics.
These polymers are converted into compostable biopolymer pellets, which can be made into biodegradable plastic packaging. While this is fully ocean-compostable, the packaging is not strong enough or heat-resistant enough to replace plastics.
The introduction of graphene into the natural polymers adds the necessary functional properties to replace current plastics. It makes Toraphene stronger, thinner, lighter and cheaper than other plastic packaging alternatives without compromising its compostability. It is also safer and less permeable, providing a better barrier against contamination than traditional plastics.
Some bioplastics also produce methane – a highly potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 25 times that of carbon dioxide – when they decompose. Toraphene can be optimized to produce carbon dioxide and mulch, which can be utilized to fortify soil.
The company is currently producing the biomaterial by renting production equipment from plastic bag manufacturers and slotting into existing supply chains, opening a dialogue with major consumer brands, retailers and food packaging suppliers.
A Turning Point
Toraphene was created to disrupt the $4 trillion plastics industry and revolutionize the sustainable plastics market by eliminating single-use plastics, replacing them with a material that works for both people and the planet.
“Toraphene has the potential to create a critical turning point in tackling the global plastic pollution crisis,” says Birgit Liodden, founder of The Ocean Opportunity Lab, the world’s first floating lab for entrepreneurs across ocean industries, sustainable solutions and technology.
“We all know how pressing the climate crisis is, and plastic pollution is a huge problem, particularly in our ocean environments. I’m very heartened by the prospect of Toraphene, which should be a transformative step in tackling plastic pollution and play a huge role in making the world’s oceans plastic-free”.
Toraphene’s innovative biodegradable packaging can compete with synthetic plastics on both performance and price and is completely biodegradable and 100% sustainable.
References and Further Reading
Toraphene https://www.toraphene.com/ accessed 7th December 2020.
European Plastic Product Manufacturer (2020), First naturally biodegradable plastic packaging alternative containing graphene, European Plastic Product Manufacturer [online], https://www.eppm.com/materials/first-naturally-biodegradable-plastic-packaging-alternative-/ accessed 7th December 2020.
Science Daily (2020), Upcycling polyethylene plastic waste into valuable molecules, Science Daily [Online] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/10/201022143928.htm accessed 7th December 2020.