A biopolymer made from renewable feedstocks could answer the UK’s ban on single-use plastics. The UK is pressing ahead with its ban on single-use plastics, to take effect in April 2020. Yet eight million tons of single-use plastics are still produced each year. So, how can the ban overcome this growing reliance? Dr Ashlee Jahnke, director of research at plastic substitute specialist Teysha Technologies, explains why a breakthrough in biopolymers might hold the key.

The shortcomings of alternative biodegradable or compostable plastics are becoming ever more apparent. Recent research by the University of Plymouth, UK, gathered evidence that plastic bags labeled as biodegradable were still intact after three years’ exposure to the natural environment. Various types of plastic bag were tested for the study and, in particular, biodegradable bags were found to survive in soil and sea almost unscathed. What’s more, they were still able to hold more than two kilos of shopping.

The resistance of conventional plastics to microbial digestion, and the resulting problems they cause to the environment, are well-documented. According to Scientific Reports, there are now some 80,000 tons of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the massive and expanding area of debris that measures more than 1.6 million square kilometers in the north-central Pacific Ocean.

Polymers, very long molecules that consist of thousands of atoms linked together in a chain with a repeating structure, give traditional plastics the very qualities that make them so useful in our daily lives. They include versatility, durability, flexibility and toughness. Yet their synthetic properties don’t mix with natural environments and that is why undecomposed plastics fill our oceans. Instead, biodegradable plastics have molecules that can break down naturally.

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