San Diego scientists develop plastic that biodegrades in seven months

25 March 2024 16:57

San Diego - A newly developed plant-based polymer biodegrades within seven months, according to University of California San Diego professors who founded materials science company Algenesis. The invention could help cut down on waste that becomes so-called microplastics, or tiny polymer pieces that pollute the planet.

Small, imperishable pieces of plastic pollute the oceans and other waters, the soil, and even human bodies. These so-called microplastics, which can remain intact for as long as a millennium, have been found inside peoples’ bodies.

Now researchers at the University of California San Diego and Algenesis, a San Diego-based materials-science company, claim to have developed plant-based plastics that biodegrade within seven months, a discovery that could dramatically limit microplastic pollution.

“We're trying to find replacements for materials that already exist and make sure these replacements will biodegrade at the end of their useful life instead of collecting in the environment,” said University of California San Diego Chemistry Professor and Algenesis Co-Founder. Michael Burkart, who co-authored the paper, in a press release.

Publishing their findings in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, the researchers took three steps to confirm their discovery. First, they ground down their polymer into microparticles that they then placed in a compost. Second, they measured how microbes released carbon as they consumed the plastic, whether the plastics degraded in water, and how the plastic was changing through chemical analysis. Lastly, they discovered that microbes were digesting the material.

“This material is the first plastic demonstrated to not create microplastics as we use it,” said Stephen Mayfield, an Algenesis co-founder and University of California San Diego biologist. “This is more than just a sustainable solution for the end-of-product life cycle and our crowded landfills. This is actually plastic that is not going to make us sick.” ce/jd