New Biodegradable Plastics Have Many Applications

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Food packaging and other disposable plastic trash may soon be composted with your organic waste. The oxygen-rich sugars in new polymer-based packaging absorb water and degrade harmlessly to be disposed of at home and even to feed your garden.

Developed at Imperial College London by a team of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council scientists, the "greener" plastics solve a number of environmental and economic problems. For one thing, nearly 7 percent of worldwide oil and gas resources are currently used to manufacture plastics--99 percent of which are formed from fossil fuels. What's more, the worldwide production of plastics amounts to a whopping 150 million tons per year.

The new plastics use a degradable polymer made from sugars known as lignocellulosic biomass. These sugars come from fast-growing trees and grasses or the renewable biomass from agricultural or food waste. Current bio-renewable plastics use crops such as corn or sugar beet. The leading bio-renewable plastic, polylactide, requires a high-energy process and consumes considerable amounts of water. When these plastics are recycled, the polylactide in them must be degraded in a high-temperature industrial facility.

The new polymer, made from cheap materials or waste products, offers a number of advantages over petrochemical-based plastics. Because it's degradable, it can be used for medical applications like tissue regeneration, stitches and drug delivery. The non-toxic polymer decomposes in the body creating harmless by-products. Investigations are also underway on ways of using the material as artificial scaffolds for tissue regeneration, and as a material to release drugs into the body in a controlled way.

For an additional perspective, check out the video, Biodegradable Plastics

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Alex A. Kecskes has written hundreds of published articles on health/fitness, "green" issues, TV/film entertainment, restaurant reviews and many other topics. As a former Andy/Belding/One Show ad agency copywriter, he also writes web content, ads, brochures, sales letters, mailers and scripts for national B2B and B2C clients.

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