Scientists from Osaka University have developed a new biodegradable plastic
They claim it’s twice as strong as conventional plastic made from polyethylene
Made from cassava starch and cellulose from wood pulp, the plastic can be broken down by microorganisms in ocean water in 30 days
The team hopes the plastic could be used to reduce plastic waste in the ocean
For comparison, a plastic bag in the ocean takes around 20 years to decompose, while plastic bottles can take as long as 450 years.
Researchers from Osaka University have developed a new kind of plastic that can be used to make watertight containers that are also biodegradable in certain kinds of ocean water.
The project was a joint effort from Osaka University and Nippon Shokuhin Kako Company, a Japanese agricultural giant that produces starch-based food products.
The team extracted starch from cassava provided by Nippon Shokuhin Kako and combined it with cellulose taken from wood pulp.
The mixture was dissolved in a water solution and spread into a transparent sheet that’s just 100 micrometers thick.
The sheet was then heated to turn it into a solid plastic, according to a report in the Asahi Shimbun.
The team says the resulting plastic is twice as strong as conventional plastic made from polyethylene, one of the main components in plastic bags.
To test its biodegradability, they placed samples of the new plastic in several different containers filled with seawater, each of which had varying levels of microorganisms in them.
The team found that the plastic fully broke down within 30 days in the seawater sample with the highest concentration of microorganisms.
In other containers with lesser amounts of microorganisms the plastic remained in tact after the 30 day observation period.
In comparison, a plastic bag in the ocean takes around 20 years to decompose, while plastic bottles can take as long as 450 years.
‘We would first like to use it as food packaging materials, which are very familiar to people and are often contained in the waste in the sea,” Osaka University’s Hiroshi Uyama said.
‘I hope that this will be a part of the solution to the issue and raise the interest of people.’
Every year an estimated eight million metric tons of plastic waste is thrown into the ocean, and for every square mile of ocean water there are a reported 46,000 pieces of plastic waste.
By 2050, The World Economic Forum estimates that microplastics in the ocean will outweigh all of the world’s fish.
The accumulation of plastic waste has posed a growing threat for sealife of all kinds.
Earlier this year, a study of loggerhead sea turtles found significant amounts of plastic debris trapped in the turtle’s digestive system.
According to the researchers, the turtles were drawn to the plastic because they still smelled like the food items they had once contained, making the turtles think they were edible.
The team from Osaka University hopes their new kind of plastic could cut down on the harm food containers and other plastic waste causes in the ocean.
‘Because these materials are cheap and the manufacturing process is simple, we can expect that the developed material will be put to practical use soon,’ Osaka University’s Taka-Aki Asoh told Anthropocene Magazine.
‘We have great expectations that our material will help solve the growing global problem of marine debris accumulation and have a major societal impact.’
Published on dailymail.co.uk