Newly Developed Biodegradable Plastic Decays in Compost Bin in Couple of Years

A team of researchers from Kaunas University of Technology (KTU), Lithuania have developed biodegradable plastic, which decomposes in a compost bin in a couple of years.

A team of researchers from KTU Faculty of Chemical Technology have created a fully-compostable packaging for food products from bioplastic, which disintegrates with the help of microorganisms. (Image credit: Kaunas University of Technology)

Bioplastic developed at KTU is transparent and every material in its constitution is compatible for contact with food.

The amount of plastic produced worldwide in a year is approximately the same as the whole weight of humanity. Out of this, only 9% is recycled, and the remaining is gradually getting decomposed in the landfills. It takes around several hundred to a thousand years for the plastic disintegration process to take place; during this time, plastic is broken down into microplastic particles, which enter the ground waters, and from there into the food and environment.

It is predicted that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans of the earth.

Combating plastic waste is one of the main concerns of the present generation. The European Parliament has sanctioned a law banning an extensive variety of single-use plastic items, for example, cotton buds, cutlery, and straws by 2021, and several legislations are being passed worldwide in order to control plastic waste. Researchers are also participating in the movement while developing more environment-friendly solutions.

A group of scientists from the KTU Faculty of Chemical Technology has created a fully compostable packaging for food products from bioplastic, which decomposes with the help of microorganisms.

We are used to get sandwiches, snacks, pastries, sweets, and many other products in a paper bag with a plastic window. With a clear window on the front face, the products in the bag can be viewed easily. Although paper is biologically degradable, it is complicated to separate paper from plastic, and the package is considered non-recyclable and non-compostable. However, if we made the window from biodegradable plastic, it could be composted. Moreover, we could even use the bag for collecting biodegradable waste and put all into the compost bin together.

Dr Paulius Pavelas Danilovas, Lead Researcher, Kaunas University of Technology

Compostability is an attribute of a product that enables it to biodegrade under particular conditions with the influence of microorganisms.

There are plenty of microorganisms in compost and they digest our plastic very well,” states Dr Danilovas.

As per EU standards, in industrial compost centers where the temperature of 58 C is maintained, bioplastic decomposes in half a year. However, in a compost bin at home, the process would take around two years.

Bioplastic developed at KTU laboratories is composed of cellulose, which is a natural material and the key building block of plant cells’ membranes. Cellulose is typically derived from timber and is the most common biopolymer present in nature.

The major challenge while developing bioplastic is to make it degradable as well as transparent, as this quality is frequently demanded by customers, state scientists.

Usually, to become fluid plastic needs to be heated. However, if you heat paper (which is also based on cellulose) it will not only not become liquid, but will also burn! We are excited to have found composites, which not only allow cellulose to turn into fluid condition but also are non-toxic, which is very important in all products related to food handling.

Dr Paulius Pavelas Danilovas, Lead Researcher, Kaunas University of Technology

He confesses that being environment-friendly has its cost—the biodegradable package developed at KTU is many times more costly than normal. However, the increasing number of eco-conscious users is persuading industries to take an interest in biodegradable packaging alternatives.

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