by Rudy Sanchez
Plastics, aside from taking forever to degrade, also utilizes non-renewable sources like petroleum as well as other toxic chemicals. The production itself can also yield some nasty by-products. Even when plastics start to degrade, they break down into toxic components, particularly in our oceans.
Researchers at Tel-Avi University have possibly found a solution that will not only create a non-petroleum plastic but one that doesn’t require lots of water and land in the form of sea-faring microalgae.
“There are already factories that produce this type of bioplastic in commercial quantities, but they use plants that require agricultural land and fresh water,” said Dr. Alexander Goldberg in EcoWatch. “The process we propose will enable countries with a shortage of fresh water, such as Israel, China and India, to switch from petroleum-derived plastics to biodegradable plastics.”
Best of all, the entire manner of production takes place in the sea.
The microbes eat algae and do not compete with conventional food sources, and have low nutrient requirements. The species used in the study, Haloferax mediterranei, require no precursor to produce plastic and its high salinity conditions decrease the chance of microbial contamination and the need to sterilize growth mediums (a solid or liquid that assists the growth of a microorganism or cells) and other related equipment.
The plastic produced is Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) and is biosynthetic, biodegradable, produces no toxic waste and can be recycled as organic waste. Applications include packaging, fibers, biofuel and medical devices like implants and drug delivery systems.
The next step for researchers is trying different combinations of seaweed and bacteria to produce plastics with the best qualities, depending on the application.