In an effort to make plastics more environmentally friendly, a group of researchers at the University of Florida has found a way to make plastics from yard waste. Traditional plastics are made from oil and recently some companies have been making plastic out of food products — like cane sugar and corn starch. If this new yard waste plastic product were to become feasible on a large scale we could all see our grass clippings carted away by some company, only to return to us as the receptacle holding our organic yogurt. Oh the excitement of closed-loop systems!
To create this new natural plastic, researchers fermented the yard waste — and other discarded plant material — with a certain bacteria which created long strains of lactic acid. They then took those long strains of lactic acid, turned them into molecules and created plastic out of those. The particular bacteria used was collected from a geyser in Calistoga, California and was mixed with calcium carbonate. Previous teams of researchers have attempted to use discarded plant material to create plastic, but have been unsuccessful at making the process cost effective.
By adding calcium carbonate this team of researchers was able to turn the temperature on the process up, therefore making the fermenting process as efficient as those that create plastics from corn starch or sugar cane. Some critics of bioplastics have said that we shouldn’t cut into our food supply in order to make plastics. This team of researchers believes they’ve solved not only our plastic petroleum problem but also our plastic food problem. “As we start using more and more bioplastics, we are infringing upon the use of food material,” said Shanmugam. “We’d like to switch away from food-based carbohydrates to non-food-based carbohydrates for producing plastics.”