The problems caused by plastic today are innumerable. Unrestrained use of plastic for years has led to pollution, which has, in turn, led to various environmental and health issues. The time it takes to degrade once trashed adds to woes. But the substance is a part of the modern world and cannot be taken out of circulation, at least not till it is replaced by something that fulfills its functions in various industries. Researchers may have an answer for that – wood byproducts!
A team, led by members of the Yale School of Environment and the University of Maryland, have processed wood powder to turn it into a bioplastic, which may imitate the qualities of plastic while being able to completely degrade in much lesser time. The authors of the research, the results of which are published in the Nature Sustainability journal, point out that while there are several renewable and biodegradable options developed alternatives to petrochemical plastic, they often come at a cost. In addition to the requirement of toxic chemicals in the production process, they also lack strength.
The availability of a sustainable option for petrochemical plastic will allow the introduction of a biodegradable option across sectors, possibly even in routine consumer use. This should significantly reduce the environmental costs of plastic use. Additionally, the new material is said to have high mechanical strength, stability, and UV-light resistance.
To create this substance, the team has used powder of wood, which is usually a byproduct of wood processing, which was converted to a slurry. The product is said to have high solid content and high viscosity, and when buried in soil, complete degradation was observed in three months.
“There are many people who have tried to develop these kinds of polymers in plastic, but the mechanical strands are not good enough to replace the plastics we currently use, which are made mostly from fossil fuels,” said Yuan Yao, one of the authors of this study. “We’ve developed a straightforward and simple manufacturing process that generates biomass-based plastics from wood, but also plastic that delivers good mechanical properties as well.”
While the experimental model works with a wood powder which is essentially a waste product, large scale production of such a bioplastic could require large amounts of wood powder. A lack of balanced management could affect lead to adverse effects.
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