How is this Idaho company looking to solve plastic waste? You guessed it… potatoes

IDAHO FALLS (Idaho Statesman) — More than 10 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean every year, according to Plastic Oceans International, a US-based nonprofit organization.

It can take more than 400 years for plastic to degrade, and 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been made since the mid-1900s, according to National Geographic. The elimination of such an amount of plastic waste in the environment is a question that has preoccupied scientists for years.

Part of the solution may have been found in Idaho Falls. Since its inception in 2011, global manufacturer BioLogiQ has been working on a way to create environmentally friendly plastic products made from renewable materials.

In the most Idahoan way possible, the company turned to potatoes for the answer.

“(In 2011) we started making plastic from potato waste, specifically potato waste starch,” BioLogiQ CEO Steven Sherman said Thursday in Idaho. Statesman. “We then, from then on, carried out various research and development activities.”

HOW TO MAKE PLASTIC FROM POTATO WASTE

Traditional plastics are made of polymers – a substance made up of large molecules repeated many times – such as polyethylene and polystyrene. These polymers can take hundreds of years to degrade, Sherman said.

RELATED | The company is conducting a two-year experiment in tanks at a local aquarium

BioLogiQ does not entirely create its own products or reinvent the wheel, but rather inserts its own “iQ technology” into other plastic products, called NuPlastiQ. iQ technology contains substances such as potato, corn starch or naturally occurring glycerin obtained from vegetable oils and animal fats.

When BioLogiQ technology is combined with other plastic products, Sherman said, this allows plastics to degrade faster because microorganisms that eat plastics have a much easier time breaking down things like starch and glycerin. Up to 30% of a product can include NuPlastiQ, Sherman said.

Plastics without BioLogiQ’s technology take so long to degrade because the molecules are too big for microorganisms to eat. Over time, the plastic eventually breaks down into smaller pieces due to fragmentation, caused by sunlight and oxidation, until it is finally small enough that microorganisms can eat it.

“We’re actually making the plastic available to the environment in a way that helps microorganisms eat not only the iQ product that’s in the plant-based (plastic), but also the other plastic. around it,” Sherman said.

Sherman said the company doesn’t have a specific timeline for how long its NuPlastiQ will fully degrade due to different natural circumstances such as various ecosystems, pH levels and temperature. But he said “well over 100 lab studies” have shown it degrades much faster than regular plastic.

The company has a two-year experimentation exhibit at the East Idaho Aquarium that puts a regular plastic and a NuPlastiQ product in two separate cages in an aquarium. Museum visitors can compare the degradation of the two products and learn more about plastic in the environment.

BioLogiQ placed plastics in metal containers in three different tanks at the East Idaho Aquarium: along with rays, sharks, and regular fish. | Eastern Idaho Aquarium

“I think it’s been really good enough. A lot of people are curious about them because it’s kind of a weird thing,” East Idaho Aquarium executive director Arron Faires told The Statesman on Friday. “I’ve been to many aquariums and none of them really have anything like this.”

Faires said the aquarium was happy to help with the BioLogiQ experiment because it allows the aquarium to help with conservation efforts while showing customers how long it takes for plastic bags to break down in the environment. ‘water.

“When interacting with the public, we’re not at all advocating that you throw the product away because any plastic in the environment is not a good thing,” Sherman said. “All we’re saying is we have to do our best to collect. We must do our best to recycle.

“If we fail in some of these efforts,” he continued, “then at least you integrate some technologies to reduce the likelihood of this building up.”

APPS USED

BioLogiQ’s technology is “stable,” Sherman said, meaning if it’s in a clean environment, like a pantry, it won’t break down. But as soon as it encounters a more natural environment, with water and dirt, the microorganisms begin to break down the product.

The agriculture industry is one of the main areas that BioLogiQ has focused on. The company helped create a biodegradable mulch film for use in farmers’ fields.

“Agricultural mulch film is biodegradable,” Sherman said. “If any is left on the ground or plowed into the ground, it disappears without leaving any plastic in the ground.”

The company has also worked on inserting its technology into potato bags, bread bars and blow molded bottles, which are often used for health and beauty products. Sherman said they are also working to put an iQ label with a QR code on all products that include the company’s technology, with the QR code letting people know more about the product.

“One of the things that we’ve been really striving to do, and it’s part of our mission and our vision, is to help educate the brand’s consumers about the kinds of choices that are actually available,” Sherman said. . “And not be involved in a lot of hype or deception. We’re very clear about what our product does, and we’re very clear about what it doesn’t.

Bryce K. Locke