Turning Vegetable Waste into Plastic
The World Economic Forum estimates that about 400 million tons of plastic waste are produced globally each year and that 98 percent of single-use plastic products are made from fossil fuels. So, the prospect of replacing the petroleum in plastic with a plant material is exciting news for the planet and humanity.
Toresyoku, a Japanese firm, has developed technology that efficiently removes cellulose (dietary fiber) from plant material for use in plastic production. Using vegetable waste, such as cabbage cores, rice husks, coffee grounds and the leaves and stems of tomatoes and broccoli from local farms, the company extracts the cellulose through hydrolysis (heating under pressure in water) and component decomposition (using enzymes).
Not only does the cellulose reduce the use of petroleum-based materials, but it may also increase the strength of the plastic being made for products such as plastic bottles, appliances and car bumpers. The company expects to start operating their factory soon and be able to process up to a ton of plant waste a day. While other companies have been able to extract cellulose from wood chips, Toresyoku’s technology is more efficient and can be done for a fraction of the cost of competing technologies.