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Posted by on Apr 21, 2015 in Seminars and Discussions | 0 comments

THANAPLAST: Research In The Future Of Plastic

On January 19, 2015, Thierry Ferreira, the head of the Cooperative Lab “Thanaplast SP-Carbios”, came in to discuss the collaborative project between CNRS, Univeristé de Poitiers, and Carbios Company. This project, shortened to THANAPLAST, is based on developing eco-friendly and sustainable biodegradable plastics. The ultimate goal is to find solutions for plastic waste, by using modern scientific research in biotechnology, microbiology, plant biology, and genomics.
Ferreira explained first that there are two major ecological problems: the exploitation of un-renewable natural resources and waste. He explained that especially, plastic waste contamination is a world wild dilemma as this material is unable to break down and can pollute for an immense amount of time. What is the solution?
The European association, Vincotte, was introduced due to its mission to promote renewable plastics and education consumers on proper waste disposal. Especially, the use of labeling has been important, with stamps on products indicating what kind of waste-disposal is ok for these products. The types of waste disposal can range from compost, home compostable, and biodegradable. Ferreira then went on to describe how the THANAPLAST project has been able to contribute to biodegradable plastic material.
The scientific basis behind the creation of biodegradable plastic is complex, of course. However, the differences with commonly used plastic and biodegradable were compared. The problem with commonly used plastic is it is made out of polyethylene. This material is a high source of pollution, and even with pro-oxidents used to increase its breakdown, microscopic fragments is still present and unable to be consumed by soil bacteria. “Compostable” plastic is also still made of this compound, combined with 30-40% of starch to be labeled. Therefore, tactics used to break down current plastic waste may get rid of the visual presence, but not the polluting matter.
Ferreira then went on to explain the use of polyactic acid (PLA) in THANAPLAST’s, new biodegradable plastic material. This polymer is able to be produced from fermented glucose, allowing the ability to self-destruct. This kind of innovative technology appears a solution to lessening the future addition of plastic into our landfills and environment. However, there are key issues that need to be addressed in order for these products to be successfully introduced.
The first issue is the types of products that can and cannot be made. Ferreira gave examples of important plastic products, such as computers, that cannot be included in this market as they need to be able to withstand a long time. In this sense. necessity for products that are stable, resistant, and waterproof, with a longer breakdown time might be required. Another problem involves the increased cost of making and selling these products. Third, there is a problem with the bio based background of this type of plastic, which include finding the material to produce fermented glucose, finding the right enzymes, price competition with other plastic companies, as well as competition between production of products requiring biofuel vs. those that require biodegradable plastics.
The idea with these types of environmentally-friendly products and the scientific research in eco-friendly products is to eventually produce a cost-effective product that would not be as limited by time and oversensitivity. To learn more about THANAPLAST, you can look on the websites listed below: (FRENCH) (ENGLISH)

Sara Gottschalk

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