We've talked before about the challenges that come with corn-based plastics, and of course we're always striving to move away from petroleum products. One of the problems with bioplastics has always been recyclability. We can't toss that stuff into the blue bin, and when we do it just gets sorted out and trashed at the recycling plant.
Sure, that conventional soda bottle is recyclable, but it's petroleum-based, and most plastics can only go through the recycling process once before they have to be landfilled. Not ideal!
Scientists working with IBM and Stanford University may just have the answer. They've developed a plant-based plastic that holds up to recycling and could have a ton of practical applications from medical to automotive.
Most plastic is made using metals as a catalyst. What makes this new plastic stand out is that it uses an organic, plant-based catalyst instead. That metal catalyst degrades over time, which is why conventional plastics don't hold up so well to recycling.
These organic catalysts would allow something like a plastic bottle to be recycled into car parts, rather than into a less-valuable plastic product.
The medical applications are pretty exciting, too, according to a New York Times interview with Chandrasekhar Narayan, one of the plastic's developers:
The pharma industry has a lot of good drugs on the shelf that they can’t use because they are very toxic. You could encapsulate drugs in a bioplastic polymer and deliver them directly to the cancer site. The polymer degrades locally at the site and releases the cargo.
Between this breakthrough and the fully compostable sugar plastic developed at the Imperial College of London, maybe we'll see toxic petroleum-based plastic phased out sooner than we thought!
My only questions would be where they plan to grow these plants for large scale production. Just like with biofuels, if we slash and burn a rainforest to grow enough plants for large scale production, it's not really a win. Could they grow the plants in a vertical farm situation? What do you guys think?