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Biotransformation technology

Published: 30th Mar, 2023

Context

A UK-based start-up claims to have developed Biotransformation technology that can alter the state of plastics and make them biodegradable without leaving behind any microplastics.

Biotransformation:

Biotransformation is the process by which substances that enter the body are changed from hydrophobic to hydrophilic molecules to facilitate elimination from the body. This process usually generates products with few or no toxicological effects. 

What is biotransformation technology?

  • Biotransformation technology is a novel approach to ensure plastics that escape refuse streams are processed efficiently and broken down.
  • The tech was co-developed by the Imperial College in London, UK, and a Britain-based startup, Polymateria.
  • Plastics made using this technology are given a pre-programmed time during which the manufactured material looks and feels like conventional plastics without compromising on quality.
  • Once the product expires and is exposed to the external environment, it self-destructs and biotransforms into bioavailable wax.
  • This wax is then consumed by microorganisms, converting waste into water, CO2, and biomass.
  • This biotransformation technology is the world’s first that ensures polyolefins fully biodegrade in an open environment causing no microplastics.

Why do we need it?

  • Huge plastic waste: the country is generating 3.5 billion kgs of plastic waste annually and that the per capita plastic waste generation has also doubled in the past five years. Of this, a third comes from packaging waste.
    • According to Statists, in 2019, plastic packaging waste from e-commerce firms was estimated at over a billion kilograms worldwide.
  • Freshwater and marine ecosystems as pollution: Amazon generated nearly 210 million kgs of plastic from packaging waste in 2019. They also estimated that up to 10 million kgs of Amazon’s plastic packaging ended up in the world’s freshwater and marine ecosystems as pollution in the same year.

Applications:

  • Food packaging and health care industries are the two prime sectors that could use this technology to reduce waste.
  • “The increase in cost is relatively small compared to conventional plastic that does not contain” this technology.

Alternatives to reducing plastic waste:

  • A switch to jute or paper-based packaging could potentially cut down plastic waste. This could also build sustainability within the paper industry, and save on the import bill on ethylene solutions.
  • The wooden packaging is yet another alternative, but that will make the packaging bulkier and increase cost.
  • Some other alternatives can be like coir, bagasse, rice and wheat bran, plant and agricultural residue, banana and areca leaves, jute and cloth.
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