5 innovations that are helping save the planet from plastic pollution

According to a report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) (2018-19), India generates 3.3 million metric tons of plastic waste annually. What’s even more terrifying is that this may not be the full picture and the reality is much worse.

Global plastic pollution – estimated at 300 million tonnes a year – has also reached such alarming levels that it is predicted that there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish by 2050.

People are waking up to this crisis and a lot is being done to avert disaster – from reducing the use of plastic in homes to banning plastic bags in several countries. Innovation and scientific discovery is one of the main contributions to the fight against the plastic crisis. Here are some interesting ways people are trying to help the environment:

Japanese scientists have discovered a plastic-eating enzyme secreted by bacteria that survives on the carbon content of polyethylene terephthalate (PET)

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Plastic-eating bacteria

In 2016, a Japanese scientist discovered a plastic eating enzyme called Ideonella Sakaiensis 201-F6. This was secreted by a bacterium that survives on the carbon content of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – the most commonly used type of plastic (all disposable bottles are PET). The only downside is that the process is very slow; However, scientists are currently working to speed up this process by up to 20% by modifying the molecular structure of the enzyme.

An “attractive” solution

Scientists have built a type of magnetic coil that attracts microplastics from the ocean. It uses nanotechnology to break down debris; the best part is that it happens without harming marine life in any way. These tiny coils are thinner than human hair and are coated in nitrogen and manganese. They break down plastic when they interact with oxygen. In a confined study, it was found that these nano-coils can reduce microplastics by up to 50% in eight hours.

Powering the future

The Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor (Cat-HTR) is a technology that takes plastic that cannot be recycled, melts it, and turns it into oil.

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Licella Holdings is an Australian company that has patented and developed technology that turns plastic into oil. The technology is called Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor (Cat-HTR), and it takes plastic that can’t be recycled, melts it, and turns it into oil. The process is similar to using a pressure cooker and can convert any type of single-use plastic into waxes, oils and plastics which can then be made into other products. The makers claim the technology can reuse 20,000 tons of plastic a year and reduce plastic that ends up in landfills and the ocean. The downside is that using the technology produces carbon emissions.

A down to earth solution

Aspergillus Tubingensis is a fungus capable of degrading polyurethane (PU). The mushroom was discovered by a biotechnology engineer, Samantha Jenkins, of the British biomanufacturing company Biohm. While studying a variety of mushrooms, she noticed that one of the mushrooms had broken through the lid of the container and was growing on it. Interestingly, the mushrooms were cultivated for use in bio-insulation panels, but Jenkins’ discovery took him down a different path. Biohm is not working on the development of the fungus but on the creation of a new type of biomaterial “for food, animal feed or antibiotics”.

An Indonesian startup is working with seaweed farmers and using the harvest to develop packaging materials.

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Solutions from the ocean

Bioplastic has become one of the most important solutions to combat the plastic crisis facing our planet. It is a type of plastic made from bio-based renewable resources. Ironically, the solution to plastic pollution comes from a source that has suffered the most as a result of indiscriminate use of plastic.

One example is Evoware, an Indonesian startup that works with seaweed growers and uses the harvest to develop packaging materials. The packaging is used for food products and can then be completely dissolved in hot water and even consumed. Although the country produces millions of tons of seaweed every year, there are some challenges. One is cost, as seaweed packaging costs almost five times more than regular packaging. It also needs extra packaging to protect the algae.

While several companies are innovating to make alternatives to plastic, including bamboo and potato-based materials, mass adoption may take time as these are still niche products that few can afford. .

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

Bryce K. Locke