New Blend of Biodegradable Plastics Offers New Hope to Global Plastics Issue

If you’ve watched the news recently, it can’t have escaped your notice that the world’s oceans are clogged with plastics, strangling the very life out of the wildlife that calls them home. Despite concerted efforts from many countries to recycle more of the plastic they produce, vast quantities of plastics are still finding their way into landfill and into the sea and the fact that they aren’t biodegradable in any way, shape or form, means they’re there for good.

However, there is a chink of light in the darkness, as according to study published in the ACS journal Environmental Science and Technology, a new blend of plastics has been discovered that’s not just biodegradable, but biodegradable in a domestic compost environment - meaning that it could revolutionise how we use and manage the plastic we use..

Existing Plastics

The most popular biodegradable plastic that exists on the the market today is known as PLA (aka Polylactic Acid) and whilst it is, technically, classed as being biodegradable, it takes some pretty exceptional conditions to do so. In order for PLA to be broken down, it must be subject to extremes of heat, rather than happening in a way that nature could deal with on it’s own.

New Research

Thanks to pioneering research at Trinity College Dublin by Dr Ramesh Babu Padamati, Associate Professor Kevin O’Connor and Dr Tanja Narancic, it seems like there could be answer to the problem. A report produced by the trio addressed the issue that previous evolutions of biodegradable plastics lacked the strength required to be used in manufacturing and packaging, in place of traditional plastics shouldn’t be confused are the terms ‘best before’ and ‘use by’, as they are completely different things and food with an expired use by date should not and will not be sold as part of this scheme.

15 different plastic blends were examined under controlled conditions and it was discovered that by mixing the aforementioned PLA plastic with PCL (aka Polycaprolactone) resulted in the plastic being able to totally degrade to biomass, water and CO2 in standard composting situations. Not only that, but these plastics were seen to have the flexibility and strength for wide scale industrial and manufacturing application.

No Panacea

Whilst this development should be seen as a major breakthrough in the battle against global plastic pollution, the report also stated that it shouldn’t be viewed as a panacea for all issues relating to plastic management. In combination with ongoing recycling efforts around the world, it looks like it might possibly be a key factor in turning the tide - but it’s not a panacea to the world’s plastic problem all on its own.

Plastics for the Future

Many things in life are uncertain, but what can be said with a high degree of certainty is that the way that we use have been using plastics for the last 50 years has got to change. Videos of marine life across our oceans being seen to be ingesting and being suffocated by conventional plastics are distressing and a real warning sign to us all.

This breakthrough in plastics technology is a great start on the road to recovery, but it must be grasped with both hands, developed and implemented across the world in industry and food packaging circles. Until that time, the innocent marine wildlife around the world will keep on suffering and images of our seas being swamped with plastic will keep being seen.