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How plant waste could mean the end of plastics

"You don’t have to modify what nature gives you."

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By Gwyn Wright via SWNS

A new type of plastic made directly from organic plant waste has been created by scientists.

Shot of lovely woman has two pigtails, makes heart gesture over chest, dressed in orange sweater and jeans, demonstrates love to nature and environment cares about ecology, cleaning. Plastic pollution
Up to a quarter of the weight of agricultural waste, or 95 percent of purified sugar could be converted into eco plastic using the new technique.
(Cast Of Thousands/Shutterstock)

The new material is easy to make and could be used in everything from packaging and textiles to medicine and electronics.

The researchers in Switzerland have already used the technique to make packaging films, fibers that can be spun into clothes or other textiles and filaments for 3D printing.

Conventional plastic is so widespread because making it combines low cost, heat stability, mechanical strength, processability, and compatibility, the researchers say.

Until now, few if any alternative plastics have managed to match or surpass conventional plastic on these metrics, which is vital if they are to be used more widely.

To make the new plastic, scientists ‘cooked’ wood and other non-edible plant materials in inexpensive chemicals to make a plastic precursor.

The sugar structure stays intact within the molecular structure of the plastic, making the chemistry much cheaper than other types of alternative plastic.

Portrait of confident businessman leaning on bales of recycled plastic in recycling plant
Currently, the world produces approximately 300 million tonnes of plastic waste per year. It account for 3.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions
(Juice Flair/Shutterstock)

Back in 2016, the researchers found out that adding an aldehyde chemical can stabilize parts of plant material and avoid their destruction during extraction.

Now, using a different aldehyde (glyoxylic acid instead of formaldehyde), the team could simply clip ‘sticky’ groups onto both sides of the sugar molecules, which allowed them to act as plastic building blocks.

Using this simple technique, they could convert up to a quarter of the weight of agricultural waste, or 95 percent of purified sugar into plastic.

Professor Jeremy Luterbacher from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, who created the plastic, said: “The plastic has very exciting properties, notably for applications like food packaging.

“What makes the plastic unique is the presence of the intact sugar structure.

“This makes it incredibly easy to make because you don’t have to modify what nature gives you, and it is simple to degrade because it can go back to a molecule that is already abundant in nature.”

The findings were published in the journal Nature Chemistry.

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