Old Plastics, Fresh Dirt
Chemical & Engineering News recently featured an article by reporter Alexander H. Tullo, entitled "Old Plastics, Fresh Dirt: Plastics makers see a growing market in products meant to help municipalities tackle solid waste problems".
Several BPI member companies are interviewed, as well as Dr. Ramani Narayan, our science chair, and Steven A. Mojo, executive director.
Several key BPI messages are delivered:
When a polymer is said to be “compostable,” it will biodegrade in a specific environment in a relatively short period of time. The ideal conditions occur in industrial composting facilities, where organic waste is aerated and kept warm and moist to incubate the hardworking bacteria. Narayan notes that complex chemical reactions between plant substances such as lignin and compounds found in the bacteria after they die form humic acid, the main plant nutrient in compost.
Only a handful of polymers are biodegradable in a matter of months. Such polymers are consumed by bacteria as food. But for this to happen, according to Ramani Narayan, a professor of chemical engineering and materials science at Michigan State University, the polymers need to have a relatively rare confluence of structure and properties that allow them to be broken down into smaller parts that the bacteria can digest.
"...advocates of compostable plastics assert that their materials provide enormous value by enabling the large-scale collection of organic waste such as grass clippings and food. Although the market today is relatively small, they say the potential for growth is enormous."
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, plastics composed 12% of the 250 million tons of trash Americans generated in 2010. Food waste and yard trimmings, in contrast, made up 27%.
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