Biodegradable plastic made from ‘tree glue’ could be on shelves within five years
Biodegradable plastic that can be tossed out with food scraps could be on the shelves within five years after scientists found an ingenious way to turn ‘tree glue’ into packaging.
Researchers at the University of Warwick have found that a natural glue called lignin, which holds cellulose fibers together, stiffening plant stems, can be turned into a strong, moldable plastic.
Lignin is a byproduct of the paper making process. While it is useful in plants, it causes paper made of wood pulp to weaken and discolor quickly, and so it is removed.
In its raw form it is useless, but Professor Tim Bugg at Warwick University has developed a way to use genetically modified bacteria to turn the glue into useful chemicals.
He found that a bacterial called Rhodococcus jostii, which lives in the soil and feeds on the glue, can be genetically tweaked so that it turns lignin into high yields of biodegradable plastic.
Speaking at a briefing in Central London on how to deal with the world’s plastic waste problem, Prof Bugg said: “I have been working on lignin for 40 years and when I started people said ‘you’re wasting your time’ but now people are thinking this is possible.”