In recent years, we’ve all become aware of the problems caused by plastic pollution. Petroleum-based plastics, which can take literally hundreds of years to disintegrate, fill up our landfills and cause huge problems in the ocean.
Thankfully, some ingenious inventors are busy developing alternatives to traditional plastics, called “bioplastics”. These alternatives aim to have the same uses as traditional plastics, but be much more environment-friendly than fossil fuel based substances. To do this, they’re using unexpected things like seaweed, sugar, and…bugs? Yep!
An inventor from Chile named Margarita Talep has created a bioplastic made from seaweed. Red algae, which grows naturally in marine environments, contains an important jelly-like substance called agar. Talep uses agar to make a plastic alternative made entirely of natural materials that breaks down in a few months. She has even experimented with coloring the bioplastic with natural vegetable colors for more packaging versatility.
The makers of Lego toys have begun to use an interesting plastic alternative, made from sustainably sourced sugar cane. They have even partnered with the World Wildlife Fund and other organizations to promote bioplastics and ensure that they are sustainably sourced. The bioplastic is currently being used for the tree and plant pieces, and they plan to have all Lego blocks made from it by 2030. Very cool! 🙂
One of the strangest materials used in bioplastics comes from Aagje Hoekstra, who created a new plastic made from, of all things, insects! The bugs, called darkling beetles, are the adult stage of the mealworm, a grub that is commonly farmed as animal feed. Normally the beetles die after laying eggs and are simply discarded, but Hoekstra discovered that their shells can be collected and pressed into a waterproof sheet. Personally I don’t see this being very popular as *food* packaging, but it could have some less gross applications! 😉
Another interesting alternative comes from Jeongwon Ji, who has designed a plastic alternative from the shells of invasive crabs. Chinese mitten crabs are an invasive species that have been taking over waterways in the UK. Ji found a way to use these pests as a resource, by combining the chitin in the shells with glycerin to make a bioplastic called Crustic. Unlike the others, this bioplastic warps as it dries, creating interesting artistic shapes.
One pair of designers, Eric Klarenbeek and Maartje Dros, have created an algae-based bioplastic that can be used in 3D printers! They plan to establish a network of printing stations called the “3D Bakery”, where anyone can print objects they need from bioplastic.
It’s inspiring to see these plastic alternatives being developed! Plastic packaging is very useful for keeping our food and water fresh, but it’s sad to see the damage it does after it is thrown away. With these alternatives, we can have the same uses as plastic, but with the added benefits of being sustainable and biodegradable!
I’m excited for the future, how about you? 😀
Check out these articles from Dezeen.com for more detail on these cool inventions!
Lego blocks — Crustic — Beetles — Algae — 3D Bakery — 10 Bioplastics
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