Researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Washington State University (WSU) have recently developed a biodegradable plastic that could offer an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional plastics. Of course this wouldn’t replace plastic containers used to store food for long periods of time, but it could offer a smarter substitute for some of the disposable plastic containers sold on the shelves. So how were researchers able to develop this eco-friendly food packaging container? Keep reading and we’ll reveal what this new product is made.
The new eco-friendly container that researchers developed is actually considered a type of thermoplastic; therefore, it becomes plastic when heated to a certain temperature and softens back down when it’s cooled to room temperature. Unlike traditional plastic, however, this new thermoplastic is made with a biodegradable material that isn’t going to litter the landfills for decades to come.
Although the time it takes a plastic bottle to complete biodegrade depends on a number of different factors, such as the type of plastic, environment temperature and weather conditions, it’s estimated that the process takes roughly 450 years for the average bottle. To make matters worse, bottles made with PET or PETE plastics will never biodegrade. This is certainly an alarming statistic that’s only going to get worse if we don’t come up with new ways to package drinks and foods.
You might be surprised to hear that researchers used sugar beet pulp to create a polymer film for their containers. Using this sugar beet pulp offered several unique properties, one of which is the thermoplastic-like consistency. This allowed for a strong and durable container that wasn’t going to break under pressure, but it was also biodegradable and not harmful to the environment. These two elements are critical to creating safe and effective food containers. Once the polymer film was completed, it resembled a semi-soft white sponge-like texture that protected the contents inside it.
Whether or not researchers put these findings into any practical use is still up for discussion. Sugar beet is a common ingredient used by thousands of food manufacturers across the world, so there’s no shortage of ingredients used to create their new eco-friendly containers. The problem, however, is that manufacturing it will likely cost a significant more than traditional plastics. Hopefully they will continue to work on and improve the processing method used to create this sugar beet plastic so it will be more readily available in the future.