By Lynn L. Bergeson
On April 13, 2021, Montana State University (MSU) researchers from its Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering published an article entitled “Biomineralization of Plastic Waste to Improve the Strength of Plastic-Reinforced Cement Mortar.” The study evaluates calcium carbonate biomineralization techniques applied to coat plastic waste and improve the compressive strength of plastic-reinforced mortar (PRM), a type of plastic-reinforced cementitious material (PRC). In an effort to reduce the environmental impact of plastic pollution, the study tested two types of biomineralization treatments: enzymatically induced calcium carbonate precipitation (EICP) and microbially induced calcium carbonate precipitation (MICP). While MICP treatment of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resulted in PRMs with compressive strength similar to that of plastic-free mortar, EICP-treated PET resulted in weaker strength than that of MICP. MICP treatment, however, affects differently the compressive strength of PRM in various types of plastics. According to the researchers, further work is needed to understand the impact of MICP treatment on interfacial strength. The authors hope that greater knowledge of this mechanism will lead to the establishment of biomineralized PRC as a high-volume method to reuse plastic waste.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.
On October 23, 2019, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) announced a partnership with innovation platform Plug and Play to develop an accelerator program focused on the plastics value chain to identify start-ups with innovative ideas addressing plastic waste. Named the End Plastic Waste Innovation Platform (EPWIP), this initiative will focus on solutions to lower the impact of plastic waste in the environment. Focus areas include but are not limited to collecting, managing, and sorting plastic waste; recycling and processing technologies; and creating value from post-recycled plastics. Two programs will be run throughout the calendar year in Silicon Valley, Paris, and Singapore. Plug and Play will source specific start-ups working on solutions in selected focus areas. Running for 12 weeks, the programs will accept ten start-ups each, under which Plug and Play will invest in 20 selected start-ups per year. Engaging start-ups to AEPW members throughout the entire plastics value chain on infrastructure, education and engagement, innovation, and cleanup efforts, the programs will serve as a bridge between start-ups and access to new markets through AEPW members. Applications are now open for the first program, which will run from February through May 2020.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.
On October 16, 2019, the University of Surrey, United Kingdom, announced that its researchers have partnered with colleagues from France, Germany, and Spain to start working on a new technique to tackle plastic waste. According to the university’s article, this novel technique may revolutionize the recycling industry. The plan is to create engineered microbial communities that will digest two types of plastic polymers -- polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyurethane (PU) -- and transform them into molecules that can be used to develop a more environmentally friendly material called Bio-PU. This more environmentally friendly material is often used as a construction and insulation material.
According to the University of Surrey, current physical or chemical methods to degrade PET and PU are inefficient. Impurities in PET polymers and high energy costs associated with the high temperatures required to break down the material make its degradation very difficult. Similarly, degradation of PU is limited due to the difficulty in breaking down urethane bonds in the material. Given these challenges, University of Surrey Senior Lecturer in synthetic biology Dr. Jose Jimenez highlights that “[m]oving away from the reliance on single use plastics is a positive step; however, the problem of how we deal with current plastic waste still needs to be addressed.” Hence, the project will investigate the ability of microorganisms to digest plastic waste and turn it into a more environmentally friendly material that can be recycled.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham
On January 16, 2019, a group of global companies from the plastics and consumer goods value chain announced the launch of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), which will advance solutions to eliminate plastic waste in the environment, especially in the ocean. AEPW membership, currently at 30 member companies, represents global companies located throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. APEW has committed over $1.0 billion with the goal of investing $1.5 billion over the next five years. The announcement of the launch states that APEW will “develop and bring to scale solutions that will minimize and manage plastic waste and promote solutions for used plastics by helping to enable a circular economy.” AEPW is a not-for-profit organization that includes companies that make, use, sell, process, collect, and recycle plastics including chemical and plastic manufacturers, consumer goods companies, retailers, converters, and waste management companies. The following companies are the founding members: BASF, Berry Global, Braskem, Chevron Phillips Chemical Company LLC, Clariant, Covestro, Dow, DSM, ExxonMobil, Formosa Plastics Corporation, U.S.A., Henkel, LyondellBasell, Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings, Mitsui Chemicals, NOVA Chemicals, OxyChem, PolyOne, Procter & Gamble, Reliance Industries, SABIC, Sasol, SUEZ, Shell, SCG Chemicals, Sumitomo Chemical, Total, Veolia, and Versalis (Eni).
As part of its roll-out, APEW also announced an initial set of projects and collaborations that reflect a range of solutions to help end plastic waste:
- Partnering with cities to design integrated waste management systems in large urban areas where infrastructure is lacking. This work will include engaging local governments and stakeholders and generating economically sustainable and replicable models that can be applied across multiple cities and regions.
- Funding The Incubator Network by Circulate Capital to develop and promote technologies, business models, and entrepreneurs that prevent ocean plastic waste and improve waste management and recycling, with the intention of creating a pipeline of projects for investment, with an initial focus on Southeast Asia.
- Developing an open source, science-based global information project to support waste management projects globally with reliable data collection, metrics, standards, and methodologies to help governments, companies, and investors focus on and accelerate actions to stop plastic waste from entering the environment.
- Creating a capacity building collaboration with intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations to conduct joint workshops and trainings for government officials and community-based leaders to help them identify and pursue the most effective and locally-relevant solutions in the highest priority areas.
- Supporting Renew Oceans to aid localized investment and engagement. The program is designed to capture plastic waste before it reaches the ocean from the ten major rivers shown to carry the vast majority of land-based waste to the ocean.
The global internet broadcast that aired on January 16, 2019, is available at www.endplasticwaste.org/live. More information is available on APEW’s website.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On December 18, 2018, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency of the United Kingdom (UK) published a policy paper titled “Our Waste, Our Resources: A Strategy for England.” The paper outlines the strategy to be implemented for the preservation of material resources through minimizing waste, promoting resource efficiency, and moving towards a circular economy. The strategic framework to be put forth is guided by two objectives: (1) to maximize the value of resource use; and (2) to minimize waste and its impact on the environment. It aims to deliver five strategic ambitions to work towards:
- Assuring that all plastic packaging on the market be reusable, recycled, or compostable by 2025;
- Eliminating food waste to landfill by 2030;
- Eliminating avoidable plastic waste over the lifetime of the 25 Year Environment Plan;
- Doubling resource productivity by 2050; and
- Eliminating avoidable waste of all kinds by 2050.
Meant to complement other government strategies related to environment and resource productivity, the framework focuses on innovation. The strategy, for example, includes the launching of a call for evidence on the development of standards for biobased and biodegradable plastics in early to mid-2019. Highlighting the potential use of biowaste in the production of biogas, the paper defines what is called a “lifecycle” approach that complements the model of a circular economy. To grow the UK’s bioeconomy, this “lifecycle” approach is designed to reduce waste through reusing biodegradable and biobased products to extend the lifetime of resources. It would include the production of a waste hierarchy and food surplus for animal feed or biomaterial processing, increasing resource efficiency and waste reduction.
By Lauren M. Graham, Ph.D.
On June 6, 2017, Neste, a member of BRAG, announced that it would direct a large amount of its resources to researching waste and waste raw materials. In the future, Neste aims to produce biofuels and bioplastics from waste and residues, as well as utilize waste plastics as a raw material. Currently, waste fats and residues from meat and fish processing industries, as well as used cooking oil, account for nearly 80 percent of the raw materials in Neste's renewable products. The aim of investing in the research venture is to find increasingly lower grade waste and residue raw materials that have no other significant uses, such as residues from the forestry industry, algae, and waste plastics. The same NEXBTL technology that allows Neste to refine low-quality waste fats into high-quality fully renewable fuel can be used to produce other renewable products, such as aviation fuel and raw materials for bioplastics.
On June 9, 2016, European Bioplastics (EUBP) announced the support of a European Parliament (EP) report emphasizing the role of bioplastics in the creation of a circular bioeconomy. The report, produced by Italian MEP Simona Bonafè¨, outlines legislation that is needed to use waste more efficiently to create bio-based materials. Increasing the value of waste by promoting its use to create other bioproducts will help shift the linear bioeconomy to a circular, more efficient, bioeconomy. The report suggested defining composting and anaerobic digestion of organic waste as recycling, and requiring the collection of biowaste by 2020 in order to increase organic recycling of biowaste to 65 percent by 2025. On June 15, 2016, the EP debated possible new definitions of litter, with the intent of reducing both land and marine based litter by 50 percent by 2030.
On November 12, 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other environmental and scientific experts to create the Nutrient Recycling Challenge (NRC). The competition was created to develop technology to recycle nitrogen and phosphorus from the more than one billion tons of livestock waste that is produced annually. The NRC is made up of four phases, allowing innovators to turn concepts into designs, and designs into working pilot projects used by participating farms. Phase I includes a $20,000 cash prize that can be split among up to four semi-finalists. It began on November 16, 2015, and will end on January 15, 2016, with semi-finalists announced in March 2016. Semi-finalists will also be invited to a two-day partnering and investor summit in Washington, D.C. and will gain entry into the next phases of the challenge. The phases will continue with larger awards being distributed until final awards are announced in January 2017, and the pilot project will be started.
On September 7, 2015, Clean Technica published a conversation with Novozymes CEO Peder Holk Nielsen about opportunities for growth coming from the upcoming COP 21 Paris climate talks. Nielsen expressed a desire for a form of taxation or limits on carbon emissions to be put in place over the next 10 or 15 years. In the future, Nielsen sees biofuel production becoming more sustainable as people turn to waste biomass rather than producing biomass. The increasing use of waste biomass is an opportunity for Novozymes to deploy enzymes that are capable of converting waste biomass into biofuels in a cost effective and efficient manner. Novozymes is a global biotechnology company with a focus on industrial enzymes, microorganisms, and biopharmaceutical ingredients and is a Biobased and Renewable Products Advocacy Group (BRAG®) associate member.
BETO is hosting a workshop on November 5, 2014, in Arlington, Virginia, to address challenges in converting waste food products to energy. The workshop will gather experts in the field to identify technical barriers to the commercial development of liquid transportation fuels from waste feedstocks, which will ultimately help develop a roadmap that highlights the key pathways and metrics to reaching commercialization. Registration is free, but space is limited. More information is available online.