From good guy to environmental villain: meet candidates to replace plastic

Plastic is in just about everything. In the utensils we have at home, in the packaging of the products we buy in stores and foods that are in supermarkets, in the soda straw, in accessories, in technological devices and much more. But if one day it was once a solution, now plastic has become a problem, and serious. Disposable cups and plates, for example, are used for around 30 minutes on average and then discarded, but once thrown away the material does not simply disappear.

Tons and tons of plastic items take hundreds of years to decompose and meanwhile will end up in dumps, landfills and worse - in the oceans. Each year, according to the BBC, more than 8 million tons of plastic waste is dumped in oceans around the world. There are already so-called plastic seas, which are true islands made up of waste that the sea currents concentrate at certain points. The consequence for marine life, for the environment and consequent for the welfare of humanity is catastrophic.

The materials we use and then throw away are polluting Planet Earth so that it is urgent to find ways to replace them with more environmentally friendly compositions. It should also be noted that the culture of the 'disposable' needs to be changed as soon as possible, because we are producing and consuming much more than the planet can handle and who will suffer the consequences ourselves. Check out some materials that are already under development and may replace traditional plastic in the near future:

Bioplastics

Herbal plastic is one of the options that first comes to mind. Constructed with different complex biomolecules such as potato starch, cornstarch, lignin or cellulose, they are fully biodegradable and, during their useful life, have qualities very similar to the usual plastic.

There are many companies and associations that are working on biopolymers that can replace plastic. And while researchers have not yet reached a universal substitute, we know that there are biological solutions to any problem.

Lactoplastics

Milk protein plastic? That's right! This material is not new, but it still needs to be improved. Researchers found that casein (a milk protein) became hard and insoluble when treated with formaldehyde during research in 1897. Thus was born casein plastics and became very popular: they were quickly used to make small decorative objects (buttons, buckles, umbrella straps, jewelry, etc.) and thus replace the ivory. But soon they found that it broke easily.

The number of scientists working on refining the idea of ​​converting casein into a biodegradable material capable of competing with the stiffness and compressibility of polystyrene has greatly increased.

Other plastics of animal origin

Not only milk comes from plastic replacement options. Farms are also an important source in this race. In fact, the solution lies in chicken feathers, which can solve more than one problem at a time, since in the United States alone over 1300 million kilograms of chicken feathers are generated and no one knows what to do with them. The fact is that feathers have one very interesting thing: keratin. Keratin is what makes up the hair, nails, horns or hooves of animals. The idea is to find methods to extract and process all this keratin, to generate very interesting materials.

Grow containers

In addition to sauces and hallucinogens, mushrooms are useful for many things. They could be used to find a replacement for plastic, for example. Ecovative has focused on using mycelium for a decade (a network of hyphae that form the vegetative part of fungi) to convert crop residues into materials that have polystyrene foam-like properties in just a few days.

Biodegradable Plastics

Another interesting way to try to solve the issue of plastic decomposition is to change its composition, ie make the material biodegradable. On the one hand, some types of plastics with these characteristics have been developed, such as PHA (Polyhydroxyalkanoates) or PCL (Polycaprolactone), which, although not made from renewable resources, degrades after six weeks of composting.

On the other hand, an important line of research is being developed to develop "pro-degrading additives" that are incorporated into normal plastics and allow them to degrade in record times. There are commercial technologies like TDPA or MasterBatch Pellets that show that it is a very fertile field. The risk is that this plastic will not be recycled and the degrading additives will eventually fall into the water system and corrode pipes, pumps and other plastic devices.

***

Do you know the Mega Curioso newsletter? Weekly, we produce exclusive content for lovers of the biggest curiosities and bizarres of this big world! Register your email and do not miss this way to keep in touch!