Biodegradables: Dealing with waste


It’s time to take a look at how we’re dealing with our waste. Nearly a tonne of waste per person is generated in Ontario each year. Some of that waste, about 30%, is diverted away from landfills — through recycling and composting. Unfortunately, that figure hasn’t budged in 15 years. One of the initiatives being considered in Ontario is a ban on single use plastics.

Chinese plastic makers are switching to biodegradable materials as Beijing moves toward a pollution-free economy. The prospect of impending government regulations against single-use plastic packaging is causing companies to ramp up biodegradable plastic production. Biodegradable plastics made from agricultural sources such as corn and sugarcane are emerging as an alternative to traditional petroleum based products.

Ford Motor Company is teaming up with Jose Cuervo to explore the use of the tequila producer’s agave plant byproduct to develop more sustainable bioplastics to employ in Ford vehicles. Currently there are about 400 pounds of plastic on a typical car.

There are a number of new and exciting biodegradable products being created, here are a few of our favorites:

Biodegradable Tableware

Biotrem, an innovative Polish company has developed disposable, biodegradable tableware made from unprocessed wheat bran.

While ordinary disposable plastic plates could take 500 years, yes 500 years, to break down, Biotrem’s tableware biodegrades through composting within a single month. They’re made from compressed wheat bran, a by-product of the cereal milling process. Biotrem can make up to 10,000 biodegradable plates and bowls from one tonne of wheat bran. Wheat bran tableware is durable, has a rather rustic, interesting look and can handle hot or cold food, liquid or solids. It is also microwave-safe. While we are not sure if it’s edible, it may be something developers may consider.

From lobster shells to dinner plates

Design students from The Royal College of Art and Imperial College have created a biodegradable and recyclable bioplastic using lobster shell waste. In an initiative dubbed Shellworks, the team has developed new manufacturing machines to produce what they believe is a sustainable replacement for single-use plastics. The malleable bioplastic is extremely versatile and can be adjusted in thickness, transparency, flexibility and stiffness to create a variety of biodegradable objects including dinner plates, cups, glasses and cutlery. The critical ingredient in the Shellworks’ bioplastic is chitlin, the world’s second most abundant biopolymer naturally found in the exoskeletons of crustaceans and insects.

Running on cotton and corn

Reebok has come up with a great new product. Plant-based sneakers made of cotton and corn. The Cotton + Corn initiative, is a reflection of the company’s decision to move to plant-based materials as a way to clean up both production and post-consumer use. The industry has typically relied on petroleum and petroleum products in their manufacturing. In addition to using 100 percent pesticide and herbicide free organic cotton for the shoe’s upper, Reebok’s new sneakers use a corn product to create the bioplastic sole.

To add to the list of grown-from-the-earth ingredients, the insole is designed and created from castor bean oil. The first product from this line to hit the market, the NPC UK Cotton + Corn sneaker, is the first shoe to be certified by the USDA as containing 75 percent bio-based materials.

Wear your garbage

The Agraloop turns food waste into sustainable clothing fibers. Don’t throw it out — throw it on. The Agraloop Bio-Refinery, is capable of turning food waste such as banana peels, pineapple leaves and hemp stalks into natural fiber that can be woven into clothing.

““We want to enable food crops to become our primary fibers,”
Circular Systems CEO and co-founder Isaac Nichelson told Fast Company.

The waste materials mentioned, plus sugar cane and flax stalk, could generate up to 250 million tons of fiber each year if processed through the Agraloop, meeting the global demand for fiber two and a half times over.

A good thing

The best thing about all these initiatives is that they are sparking an overall change in how society views waste. Over packaged products are off the shopping lists of many people. Single serve products are being replaced by reusable ones. Everyday scientists work to develop new ways to employ our waste.

We are reusing, repurposing and recycling more than ever before. We are getting there. It may take a while but we are on the right path. Good stuff!

For more news on environmentally-friendly technology and greener living stay tuned to The Electric Blog!