Earth friendly(ier) bioplastics

I’ve previously mentioned bioplastics a few times on GLT – for example, in my article on biodegradable, degradable and compostable plastics, a look at corn-based cutting boards and also a post from last year on bioplastic gift cards.

While plant material based plastics are a great concept, one of the challenges is the amount of energy needed to produce them.

However, it seems South Korean scientists have been able to produce polymers needed for everyday plastics through bioengineering and in doing so, reducing the amount of energy and inputs required.

Polylactic Acid (PLA) has been the most popular component of bioplastic productions, but up until now it has been produced in a fermentation and chemical process of polymerization in two steps. The South Korean scientists have used a metabolically engineered strain of E. coli and developed a one-stage process that they say may allow for the production of more environmentally-friendly plastic that is biodegradable and low in toxicity. 

Hmm.. fiddling with E Coli? I thought this sounded a little dangerous, but I’m certainly not a science-talkin’ sort of dude. Most of us associate E Coli with food poisoning, but after checking Wikipedia it turns out it is commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded creatures and most E. coli strains are actually harmless.

GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) playing a role in plastics production certainly sound a little better than GMO food crops; as long as these frankengerms behave nicely of course.

With all this messing about with GM organisms, I’ve often wondered how much closer we are to some sort of catastrophic mutation that comes back to bite us on the bum. Again, the disclaimer – I’m not a science-talkin’ dude, so perhaps my concerns are unfounded. The questionable nature of GMO food is a totally different story though.

Still, the bioplastics breakthrough is a very interesting bit of news – you can read more about it here.