Microplastics are one of the biggest problems our natural world faces today. But, we may now have a possible solution in the form of bioplastics.
Vienna hosted the 26th annual United European Gastroenterology conference in October of this year. Though most of the topics presented related to the human gut and medical related topics, one study revealed some disturbing environmental evidence.
The Medical University of Vienna partnered with Environment Agency Austria on the study. They tested eight people from eight different countries including Russia, Finland, Japan, Italy, Poland, Austria, the Netherlands, and the U.K.
Despite the study’s small sample size, researchers found damning evidence.
In every stool sample tested, the results tested positive for up to nine separate plastic types. On average, the researchers found 20 plastic particles per 10 grams of stool.
With microplastics appearing in human feces, is now the time for bioplastics to rise up?
The Proliferation of Microplastics in Oceans and Humans
Think of how many plastic items you come into contact with every day. Now multiply that by several billion.
By now, it’s common knowledge that the fish we eat contain microplastics. In fact, researchers found a plastic bag in the Mariana Trench. For reference, this trench is one of the deepest places on the planet Earth at around 36,000-feet down.
While ocean clean-up initiatives are on the rise, Earth’s oceans need more help.
Unfortunately, we can’t employ fish to pick up plastic unlike how Crowded Cities is training crows to pick up cigarette butts in urban centers.
What we can do is take steps to reduce our dependence on plastic and plastic items.
That means reducing the number of plastic bags used, which could take some effort. This year alone, researchers estimate that people will use around 5 trillion bags.
Before now, however, researchers did not consider bioplastics a candidate for a large-scale solution to the microplastics problem. That changed this week.
Bioplastics Become a Commercially Viable Solution
For those unfamiliar with what bioplastics are and how they work, here is a quick primer.
As the name suggests, a biological or more natural matter comprises most bioplastics. This category also includes eco-friendly biopolymers that come from organic items such as wheat, corn, beets, sugar, and tomatoes.
Cleaning up Earth’s oceans requires not only ocean clean up efforts, but reducing plastic waste. However, prior to this month, bioplastics remained a less cost-effective or scalable solution for most. Not anymore.
An international research group from the Netherlands and Japan cracked the code to scalable bioplastics this week.
As our own writer Zayan Guedim covered, the group conceived a method that delivers high-yield FDCA production thanks to a non-food plant cellulose glucose derivative.
If you pair early adoption of scalable bioplastics with the plastic eating enzyme, we could amp up our microplastics elimination efforts significantly.
Of course, bioplastics aren’t the only solution to our plastic problem.
Plastic Substitutes From the Lab and From Nature
Bioplastics and mutant enzymes aren’t the only solutions, however. If humanity has any hope of reversing the damage done, we have to use every avenue available to us, right?
In April of this year, researchers discovered a new polymer that had similar characteristics to plastic. The Colorado State University team expressed how this polymer can help fight plastics pollution and touted its reusability, as well.
Our furry, pollinating, winged friends known as bees may also be of use in plastic clean up.
The New Zealand biotech company Humble Bee began researching a “cellophane-like” plastic material from bees. The material ended up being far more flexible and durable than the researchers initially thought it would be.
The company plans to research potential uses for the new material regarding camping equipment since these items tend to require toxic chemicals for key features such as durability and waterproofing.
However, the product could also be used in electrics, aviation, construction, and other industries, as well.
Perhaps we can reverse its damage if we leverage every solution to our plastics problem.