Researchers at the University of Wolverhampton have turned waste plastic into biodegradable resins for medical and consumer products. Post-consumer polyethylene was converted into a pliable wax substance for use in plastic-alloys, turning it into a high-value bioplastic.
Dr. Iza Radecka, Reader in Biotechnology at Wolverhampton’s Faculty of Science and Engineering, and her colleague Professor Marek Kowalczuk are further testing the plastics. Possible uses includ mulch for farming, a ‘scaffolding’ on which to grow human cells and for items such as pens or bags.
Radecka said: “Mountains of plastic waste, including carrier bags, packaging and medical plastic wastes are buried in landfill sites around the world each year. Unfortunately, plastics produced by the petrochemical industry are not biodegradable and therefore accumulate in the environment at a rate of more than 25 million tonnes per year. This continues to pose a growing challenge for authorities at both the local and national level.”
“Waste Polyethylene (PE) is a potential carbon source that could be utilised to make value-added biopolymers, particularly as it is the most commonly produced plastic, making up over 29 per cent of worldwide plastic manufacture, while only 10 per cent of it is recycled.”
“Bacterial polymers such as Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) are a group of biocompatible, environmentally neutral, biodegradable plastics that can be produced by certain bacteria. The structure of the PHAs can be adapted for a wide range of medical applications, especially implants, including heart valve tissue engineering, vascular tissue engineering, bone and cartilage tissue engineering, as well as nerve conduit tissue engineering.”
The University has joined the Centre of Polymer Chemistry, Polish Academy of Sciences in Poland; the Fraunhofer UMSICHT in Germany; the University of Bologna, Italy; the Department of Chemical Organic Technology and Petrochemistry at the Silesian University of Technology, Poland, and Recycling Technologies, in Swindon.