Researchers from IBM Research and Stanford University in the US have claimed plants such as palm trees and beets could help make common consumer plasticware, such as eating utensils and medical devices.
The current method to convert plants into biodegradable plastics imparts heavy metals into the process. Although used in small amounts, such heavy metals are difficult to remove, remain in the material and do not decompose over time. The new catalyst is an organic substance that lowers the energy required for the conversion from plant to plastic to occur. It does not contain heavy metals and can degrade in the environment over time, just like the plastic itself.
“What's exciting about this discovery is that we now have a cheaper way to convert plants into common consumer plastics that decompose over time, providing an alternative to recycling plastics,” said Gavin Jones, computational chemist, at the IBM research facility in Almaden, San Jose, California.
“Making biodegradable plastics mainstream means less impact on our solid waste systems.”
IBM Research – Almaden is also the birthplace of several recent plastics and recycling achievements, including the discoveries of a new process to recycle plastics into nanofibres designed to specifically target and attack fungal infections, and a new method for recycling CDs into non-toxic plastics for water purification and medicine.