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19 - 22 June 2024

Save the Planet with Cleantech that Turns Food Waste into Bioplastics

20 June 2023

• Food waste will no longer end up in landfills as Cleantech can turn it into bioplastics and increase its value. Bioplastics then can replace single-use plastics that pollute the environment.

• A research from Virginia Tech and Genecis Bioindustries could become successful and used commercially worldwide to revolutionize the plastics industry towards sustainability.

Food waste not only contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, but also causes economic losses. The same applies to single-use plastics that goes against the principles of circular economy. It is no wonder that innovation capable of turning food waste into biodegradable plastics will be applauded universally.

Currently, innovators around the world are seeking ways to achieve this goal, especially from Cleantech. For example, researchers at the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences received a $2.4 million fund from the United States’ Department of Agriculture to produce bioplastics (PHA) at affordable prices and to reduce plastic waste on land and in the sea. Right now, more than 40% of food produced in the US alone ends up in landfills.

According to the United Nations, about 14% of the world's food production is wasted during harvest and retail sales, another 17% is wasted in households and food services. Meanwhile, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) reports that more than a third of all food produced worldwide (about 2.5 billion tons) is wasted each year and this usually occurs during the food production process. It is estimated that this food waste is worth $230 billion.

This three-year fund given to the Virginia Tech researchers will be used in their mission to scale and explore the feasibility of converting food waste into bioplastics at national and global levels, with a goal to keep the cost of producing bioplastics as low as possible.

In the research process, microbes are used to digest food waste. This will help the microbes grow into fats or bio-oils. After the microbes have acquired enough lipids, their cells will release the fat content. Once this fat is purified, it can be processed and turned into bioplastics.

If this research becomes successful and becomes widely commercialized, bioplastic products made from food waste can help reduce the amount of landfill and lower waste management costs, offset the production of petroleum-based plastics, and eventually reduce pollution from greenhouse gas emissions.

Another interesting case study is from Genecis Bioindustries, the Canadian technology company sponsored by the University of Toronto. The study uses highly engineered bacteria to convert food waste into natural, biodegradable polymers that can be used to make a variety of environmentally friendly products from t-shirts to sandals.

The process of Genecis Bioindustries involves the creation of a type of bioplastic called PHBV (a biomaterial produced by starch-based fermentation engineering technology) that has the properties comparable to traditional oil-based plastics, but without the environmental costs of using fossil fuels to produce single-use plastics. PHBV also takes just one month to decompose into compost, and it only takes a year to completely decompose in seawater.

With over $20 million in funding, Genecis Bioindustries plans to be the first to commercialize its food waste-to-PHA process, which will make it competitive with synthetic plastics in both efficiency and cost without affecting the environment. In contrast to synthetic plastics that can take centuries to decompose and pollute water with microplastics, PHA in landfills can degrade safely both on land and in water. In addition, it can be recycled into new products, so it is a cost-effective use of resources.

Please stay tuned to ME Blogs to stay on top of the latest movements in the plastic industry, and get ready to explore plastic innovations at the “InterPlas Thailand 2023” by RX Tradex, to be organized ruing 21-24 June 2023 at BITEC, Bangkok. The event will showcase the most comprehensive technology for the plastics industry, increase business opportunities for entrepreneurs by introducing the latest machinery, materials recycling technology and many more from over 300 leading brands. Furthermore, there will be quality-packed seminars and business networking activities. More than 50,000 industrialists will get a chance to discuss about technological practices that align with the BCG economic model and how to manufacture plastic products with sustainability.