Food packaging and other disposable plastics could soon be biodegraded along with organic waste thanks to a new sugar-based polymer which you can pop on your compost heap. “The degradable polymer is made from sugars known as lignocellulosic biomass, which come from non-food crops such as fast-growing trees and grasses, or renewable biomass from agricultural or food waste. It is being developed at Imperial College London by a team of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council scientists led by Dr Charlotte Williams.
The search for greener plastics, especially for single use items such as food packaging, is the subject of significant research worldwide. "It's spurred on not only from an environmental perspective, but also for economic and supply reasons," explains Dr Williams. Around 7% of worldwide oil and gas resources are consumed in plastics manufacture, with worldwide production exceeding 150 million tons per year. Almost 99% of plastics are formed from fossil fuels. ‘Our key breakthrough was in finding a way of using a non-food crop to form a polymer, as there are ethical issues around using food sources in this way,’ said Williams. Current bio renewable plastics use crops such as corn or sugar beet.”