Alternatives to Biodegradable Plastics, Which Are Waste in Oceans
April 5, 2017, Tapio Mäkelä
In the year 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. New packaging materials ranging from edible ones to those that are designed to biodegrade safely have been introduced, yet are far from solving the problem, as they are more costly and marginally used.
Early generations of biodegradable plastics may have boosted the problem of plastics in water ecosystems. Biodegradables break into microplastics, which may be even more harmful than larger pieces of traditional plastics in seas, rivers and lakes. New biodegradable packaging are designed so that they should end up in home composts.
One solution in plastic food wrapping is to make them edible. US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed such a film made of a milk protein. Such plastics would be typically used in combination with cardboard or paper wrappings.
To make the headache of plastic environmental impact worse, it has been found that plastic components that have replaced metals in electronics and consumer goods have been often treated with flame retardants that are toxic and especially harmful to children (and other life forms).
Perhaps the smartest solution so far is a six-pack beer ring by Saltwater Brewery that has been made of brewing byproducts, resulting into a composite that when it melts in seawater, marine life can eat it.
Besides producing replacements for current plastics, one major clean tech challenge is how to clean up ecosystems of the accumulated plastic waste. Solutions range from large arrays to roving marine robots. Cleantech to deal with the current problem are needed, as alternative solutions are still not cost effective nor widely enough used in the industry.