Seaweed as an alternative to the global plastic pollution

 

The consequences of global plastic pollution have reached an alarming Level. Based on the latest available informations, 9 billion tonnes of plastics have been produced since the 1950s, creating 7 billion tonnes of waste. Plastic waste not only damages the environment and threaten animal life but also harms human populations.

One of the most dangerous elements of plastic waste is tiny pieces of debris known as micro plastics. Plastic waste is damaging the environment, mostly the ocean, and in much greater amounts than originally thought. A recent study shows the number of micro plastics has reached up to 51 trillion particles, or 236,000 metric tonnes, worldwide.

These very tiny particles end up in people’s stomachs via drinking water or eating seafood, which could present health risks. Various attempts to minimize plastic use have been introduced. One involves developing plastic materials, known as biodegradable plastics or bioplastics, that decompose naturally in the environment. Latest research aims to show how seaweed can be the best material for use in bioplastics.

However, it is almost impossible to stop plastic use.

So far, plastic is the most convenient and versatile material for various purposes and brings benefits to our lives. People’s continued dependency on plastic has encouraged the rise in the production of plastic now and in the future. The plastic industry is huge and is expected to continue expanding. In 2014, the plastic packaging industry was valued at US$270 billion and this is projected to increase to $375 billion by 2030.

One way to control plastic use is through recycling. However, things are not as easy as expected. Plastic products come in a hundred or more varieties. These variations are so huge that it is difficult to sort them out for the recycling process. But only about 9% of plastic waste is recycled. Around 12% is incinerated. The rest ends up mostly in landfills or the ocean.

Bioplastics offer us an alternative. The Material are commonly made from plants or bacteria and are more environmentally friendly as well as sustainable.

Why red seaweed for bioplastics?

The brilliant invention shows that red seaweed has a huge potential as an alternative material for bioplastics. Of course more research is needed to ensure that seaweed-based plastics can be applied to other plastic products. But in the future, we hope that seaweed-based plastics will be comparable with conventional plastics.

The materials commonly used to produce bioplastics are corn, sugarcane, vegetable oil and starch. However, using these ingredients for plastics has raised some concerns. First, the production of bioplastics requires a huge investment in the land, fertilizers and chemicals. Second, the use of these plants for plastics will trigger a competition between plants for food versus plants for plastics, which will lead to food price hikes and food crisis.

Red Seaweed is so far the best candidate for bioplastics as it manages to answer both of the challenges above. First, it is cheap. Unlike other terrestrial plants, seaweed can grow without fertilizers. It does not take up huge space on land as it grows offshore. By using seaweed for bioplastics, the production of agricultural commodities for food will remain intact, so no food price hikes nor food crisis will occur.

With its potential, red seaweed should play a key role in developing eco friendly-plastics from seaweed to fight the global plastic crisis. When water bottles or shopping bags from seaweed-based plastics become waste, we have nothing to worry about, as the waste will just go back to where it came from.

Photo Credit: Stefan Leijon

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