Plastics are a major part of modern everyday life, recent figures estimate around 3.7 million tonnes of plastic are used per year in the UK (Plastics Europe). A proportion of the plastic is recycled after use; however, many plastic products are used once then thrown away, particularly plastic packaging. This discarded plastic does not degrade and is making its way into the oceans and waterways all over the world.
In efforts to reduce the impact of plastic pollution, biodegradable plastic has been developed, which has a shorter lifespan than conventional plastic. This type of plastic is usually made from fossil fuel feedstocks with chemical additives to enhance the degradation process. There are specific conditions to the breakdown of these plastics; high temperature and UV light; and left over products can themselves be harmful to the environment. A potential alternative is using plant based polymers to make plastics, they produce bioplastics. The difference being that bioplastics are compostable and decay into natural materials that can combine with the soil. Some of the plants used for the bioplastics are also food crops, like corn or maize, creating competition between food and plastic. Companies have been looking elsewhere for sources of materials to make plastic and one of the possibilities is algae.
Over the last few years a number of manufacturers (e.g. Solaplast; Cereplast; Bloom) and collaborative groups (e.g. SPLASH ) have been investigating and developing algal polymers. A new generation of plastic algal feedstocks is available, and being used in a variety of renewable plastic resins suitable for numerous applications.
For further developments and news on algal bioplastics and their uses – follow the links below:
Vivobarefoot Sports shoes: https://www.news18.com/news/sports/your-next-shoe-could-be-made-from-algae-1447973.html and https://www.wired.com/story/slip-into-earth-friendly-running-shoes-made-of-algae/
Journal of the North Atlantic and Arctic –https://jonaa.org/content/2018/01/19/algaibioplastics