Mar 28, 2007

Bioplastics developed that degrade in seawater, boon to cruise industry

Fine petroleum-based plastic particles that pollute our oceans and enter the food chain (earlier post). So what about bioplastics that degrade in seawater and become food instead of poison for marine life? Scientists from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) announce that they have developed such plastics.

Large volumes of plastic waste generated aboard military, merchant and cruise ships must be stored onboard, often for prolonged periods, until they make port. In the future, the new type of environmentally friendly plastic may make it safe and practical to toss plastic waste overboard, freeing-up valuable storage space.

The biodegradable plastics could replace conventional plastics that are used to make stretch wrap for large cargo items, food containers, eating utensils and other plastics used at sea, the researchers say. The biodegradable plastic has not yet been tested in freshwater. The development was described today at the 233rd national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

"There are many groups working on biodegradable plastics, but we're one of a few working on plastics that degrade in seawater," says study leader Robson F. Storey, Ph.D., a professor of Polymer Science and Engineering at USM, located in Hattiesburg, Miss. "We're moving toward making plastics more sustainable, especially those that are used at sea."