A novel additive-based technology for the biodegradable transformation of polyethylene terephthalate in the natural environment

Lead Participant: Polymateria Limited

Abstract

"Each year, 400M tonnes of plastic is produced of which 40% is single-use plastic that is either sent to landfill as waste, incinerated or enters the environment. Despite initiatives such as plastic bag taxes and proposed measures to reduce use and increase collection/recycling, more than 30% of the world's plastic still escapes collection systems and can end up in waterways, eventually damaging marine life, ecosystems and human health.

Heightened awareness of this waste problem and its environmental impact is driving growth in the biodegradable polymer market. Additive-based biodegradable plastic retains the physical characteristics of conventional plastic throughout a product's usable life, after which the additive accelerates the plastic biodegradation, transforming it entirely into carbon dioxide, water and biomass, thus protecting the environment from the accumulation of plastic waste. This acts as an ""insurance policy"" when collection/recycling strategies fail.

Current additives are only available for polyolefins (polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP)) as a one size fits all solution. Independent testing has proven these to be ineffective, where plastics do not fully degrade, leaving harmful fragments (microplastics) with the entire process of biodegradation requiring timescales often (far) in excess of those claimed by manufacturers. In addition, and despite the fact that polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the third most commonly used plastic (18.83M tonnes produced p.a.), there is currently no commercially viable biodegradability converter technology for PET.

To address this need, Polymateria aim to develop a portfolio of superior drop-in additives for the manufacture of biodegradable, recyclable, customisable and cost-effective plastic products. In collaboration with depolymerisation experts at the University of St Andrews, this project aims to develop the first additive-based biodegradable transforming technology for PET packaging and disposables, offering the breakthrough technology that the plastic packaging and consumer goods sector is aiming for.

Both partners are well placed to exploit this opportunity; Polymateria has already commercialised bespoke additives for PP and PE, and St Andrews has expertise in the depolymerisation of PET.. Key PET packaging manufacturers have already expressed a keen interest in co-developing the solution once a viable additive formulation has been developed.

With support from Innovate UK, a 3-year programme of industrial research is required to develop the formulation and test the associated biodegradation performance and safety. Success will facilitate a co-development deal with plastic/packaging manufacturers for final development and commercialisation by 2022, helping to establish Polymateria at the forefront of the biodegradable additives for plastics market poised for significant growth."

Lead Participant

Project Cost

Grant Offer

Polymateria Limited, London £774,582 £ 542,208
 

Participant

Imperal London College, London £219,999 £ 219,999

Publications

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