Category Archives: Plastics

Marine drone concept: Plucking plastic pollution for profit

Read the article from the Smart Planet archives (August 2012).

Could all those water bottles and plastic toys bobbing around the oceans get snatched up and recycled?

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Posted by on April 15, 2014 in Plastics, Pollution


Lego: toy maker is exploring building blocks for sustainability

Read the full story in The Guardian.

Lego’s director of environmental sustainability tells of the toy’s focus on eco-design and addresses circular economy challenges for the product with no end-of-life.

Finding Flight 370: A Needle in a Garbage Patch?

Read the full story at LiveScience.

The search for any physical evidence of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continues, more than two weeks after the plane’s disappearance.

Despite occasional reports that some debris has been spotted, nothing has yet turned up that satisfies officials who are combing the Indian Ocean for anything that could be a clue to the Boeing 777-200′s whereabouts.

In addition to foul weather, administrative bungling and the vastness of the search area, the search for MH 370 has been compounded by one other factor: the incredible amount of garbage already floating in the search area — and in oceans worldwide. [Malaysia Flight 370: Facts & Timeline]

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Posted by on April 4, 2014 in Plastics, Pollution, Water


The Many Faces of Biopolymers

Read the full post at ACS Nexus.

What exactly is a “Biopolymer”? Is your definition of this term the same as that of your colleague down the hall? “Biopolymer” is a relatively new term currently used to describe everything from biodegradable plastic bottles, to bags made out of corn, to biocompatible parts used in knee replacement surgeries, to proteins.


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Posted by on March 27, 2014 in Green chemistry, Plastics


Potentially safer, greener alternative to BPA could come from papermaking waste

Read the full post at ACS Nexus.

A waste product from making paper could yield a safer, greener alternative to the potentially harmful chemical BPA, now banned from baby bottles but still used in many plastics. Scientists made the BPA alternative from lignin, the compound that gives wood its strength, and they say it could be ready for the market within five years.

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Posted by on March 27, 2014 in Green chemistry, Plastics


Some BPA-free plastic is actually worse for you than normal plastic

Read the full story from Grist.

Today in “time to move into my underground bunker,” BPA-free plastic — touted as the safer, gentler, less cancer-y plastic — is less benign than we were promised.

The Center for Environmental Health studied 18 BPA-free plastic sippy cups and found that more than a quarter had estrogen-like chemicals. Too much estrogen has been tied to breast cancer, and a childhood imbalance can mess up the brain and other organs. And studies have indicated correlation between BPA and ailments from ADHD to heart disease to cancer. (A recent FDA study suggests BPA is safe in low doses, but there are some concerns about its validity.)


Lignocellulose shown to have potential in bioplastic production

Read the full story in Biomass Magazine.

Chemical building blocks from lignocellulosic feedstock form a huge potential for the production of bioplastics. More specifically, they have potential for biodegradable plastic polylactic acid (PLA). The building block for PLA – lactic acid – is currently produced mainly from starch originating from corn, or sugar from sugarcane. A sustainable and cost-effective production process for lactic acid on a scale that meets future demands requires the use of second generation biomass such as lignocellulose. Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research studies the process from lignocellulosic feedstock to lactic acid.

To get a clear view on the availability of agricultural residues for lactic acid production, Food & Biobased Research is performing a biomass availability study. We also carry out research into the pretreatment of lignocellulose for the production of lactic acid in order to define in-depth information about processing options.

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Posted by on March 4, 2014 in Green chemistry, Plastics


Cleansing microbeads are everwhere — including lakes and rivers

Read the full story from Crain’s Chicago Business (via Plastics News).

Plastic exfoliating microbeads—pinhead-sized spheres suspended in hundreds of facial scrubs, toothpastes and shaving creams—are silting fresh-water lakes, biologists say. And there’s some evidence that they’re flowing into the Chicago River.

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Posted by on February 25, 2014 in Great Lakes, Plastics, Water


Lego looking for a sustainable replacement for ABS

Read the full story in Plastics News.

Lego A/S is setting a target to use a sustainable resin in its signature bricks by 2030, replacing ABS.

The search for that new resin will not be easy, though, said Allan Rasmussen, senior project manager for Lego. Not only must the selected material be able to meet the same characteristics as the locking building blocks, they must also blend seamlessly with bricks already in children’s hands…

It wants a resin that will make both economic sense as well as hitting environmental targets, and wants to ensure that it is coming from a non-food feedstock base so the business doesn’t find itself facing questions about using crops for toys vs. food.


Plastic shopping bags make a fine diesel fuel, researchers report

Via the University of Illinois News Bureau.

Plastic shopping bags, an abundant source of litter on land and at sea, can be converted into diesel, natural gas and other useful petroleum products, researchers report.

The conversion produces significantly more energy than it requires and results in transportation fuels – diesel, for example – that can be blended with existing ultra-low-sulfur diesels and biodiesels. Other products, such as natural gas, naphtha (a solvent), gasoline, waxes and lubricating oils such as engine oil and hydraulic oil also can be obtained from shopping bags.

A report of the new study appears in the journal Fuel Processing Technology.

There are other advantages to the approach, which involves heating the bags in an oxygen-free chamber, a process called pyrolysis, said Brajendra Kumar Sharma, a senior research scientist at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center who led the research. The ISTC is a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois.

“You can get only 50 to 55 percent fuel from the distillation of petroleum crude oil,” Sharma said. “But since this plastic is made from petroleum in the first place, we can recover almost 80 percent fuel from it through distillation.”

Americans throw away about 100 billion plastic shopping bags each year, according to the Worldwatch Institute. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that only about 13 percent are recycled. The rest of the bags end up in landfills or escape to the wild, blowing across the landscape and entering waterways.

Plastic bags make up a sizeable portion of the plastic debris in giant ocean garbage patches that are killing wildlife and littering beaches. Plastic bags “have been detected as far north and south as the poles,” the researchers wrote.

“Over a period of time, this material starts breaking into tiny pieces, and is ingested along with plankton by aquatic animals,” Sharma said. Fish, birds, ocean mammals and other creatures have been found with a lot of plastic particles in their guts.

Whole shopping bags also threaten wildlife, Sharma said.

“Turtles, for example, think that the plastic grocery bags are jellyfish and they try to eat them,” he said. Other creatures become entangled in the bags.

Previous studies have used pyrolysis to convert plastic bags into crude oil. Sharma’s team took the research further, however, by fractionating the crude oil into different petroleum products and testing the diesel fractions to see if they complied with national standards for ultra-low-sulfur diesel and biodiesel fuels.

“A mixture of two distillate fractions, providing an equivalent of U.S. diesel #2, met all of the specifications” required of other diesel fuels in use today – after addition of an antioxidant, Sharma said.

“This diesel mixture had an equivalent energy content, a higher cetane number (a measure of the combustion quality of diesel requiring compression ignition) and better lubricity than ultra-low-sulfur diesel,” he said.

The researchers were able to blend up to 30 percent of their plastic-derived diesel into regular diesel, “and found no compatibility problems with biodiesel,” Sharma said.

“It’s perfect,” he said. “We can just use it as a drop-in fuel in the ultra-low-sulfur diesel without the need for any changes.”

The research team also included Bryan Moser, Karl Vermillion and Kenneth Doll, of the USDA National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, in Peoria, Ill.; and Nandakishore Rajagopalan, of the ISTC at the U. of I.

The Illinois Hazardous Waste Research Fund and the Environmental Research and Education Foundation supported this study.

Editor’s note: To reach Brajendra Sharma, call 217-265-6810; email The paper, “Production, Characterization and Fuel Properties of Alternative Diesel Fuel From Pyrolysis of Waste Plastic Grocery Bags,” is available online or from the U. of I. News Bureau.

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Posted by on February 13, 2014 in Biofuels, Plastics, Publications, Recycling


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