A study at Tel Aviv University (TAU) has come up with a way to make environmentally-friendly bioplastic polymers which could eventually replace plastics. The production of this material will require little in terms of land or water — which are scarce in much of the world — and will be derived from microorganisms which feed on seaweed. Furthermore, it is biodegradable, produces zero toxic waste and recycles into organic waste.
“Our raw material was multicellular seaweed, cultivated in the sea,” says Dr. Alexander Goldberg of TAU’s Porter School of Environmental and Earth Sciences. “These algae were eaten by single-celled microorganisms, which also grow in very salty water and produce a polymer that can be used to make bioplastic.”
In comparison, contemporary plastics are produced from petroleum products through an industrial process which releases numerous chemical contaminants into the environment. Because they are not biodegradable, they have accumulated to produce a massive trash problem throughout the planet, including the world’s oceans, where they have been found as deep as the bottom of the mariana trench.
“There are already factories that produce this type of bioplastic in commercial quantities, but they use plants that require agricultural land and fresh water. The process we propose will enable countries with a shortage of fresh water, such as Israel, China and India, to switch from petroleum-derived plastics to biodegradable plastics,” said Dr. Goldberg.
He added that this material could revolutionize the world’s efforts to clean the oceans, and without affecting arable land or using fresh water.” Plastic from fossil sources is one of the most polluting factors in the oceans,” he says. “We have proved it is possible to produce bioplastic completely based on marine resources in a process that is friendly both to the environment and to its residents.”
The team at Tel Aviv University is currently conducting research to find the best bacteria and algae for producing polymers for bioplastics with varying properties.