Plastics have been described as the “ubiquitous workhorse material of the modern economy.” But their versatility, pliability, and durability comes at a heavy price to the environment. Plastic pollution is quite literally everywhere. Plastic debris and microplastic particles can be found in every corner of the globe, including the Arctic and Antarctic.
The scourge of plastic pollution is driving scientists to create ecologically-friendly alternatives. According to a paper recently published in the journal Matter, scientists have developed “green” tableware made from sugarcane and bamboo that doesn’t sacrifice on convenience or functionality. This eco-friendly tableware could serve as a permanent replacement for plastic cups and other disposable plastic containers.
Traditional plastic polymers, a product of petroleum, can take as long as 1,000 years to decompose in landfills. The new material only takes 60 days to break down.
To create this material, scientists used bamboo and bagasse, also known as sugarcane pulp. Bagasse is one of the largest food-industry waste products. The researchers wound the fibers together to form a mechanically stable and biodegradable material. They added an alkyl ketene dimer, an eco-friendly chemical, to increase the oil and water resistance of the material. The green material is durable enough to hold liquids like hot coffee and hot greasy foods like pizza.
There’s another advantage: the green material’s manufacturing process emits 97% less CO2 than the process to make commercial plastic containers. The next step is to lower the manufacturing cost. While the cost of cups made from the green material is $2,333 per ton, traditional cups made from plastic are still slightly cheaper at $2,177 per ton.
Photo, posted May 19, 2013, courtesy of Henry Burrows via Flickr.