Biodegradable Microbial Bioplastics to #BeatPlasticPollution
World Environment Day is an opportunity to find out how the project is helping to combat the challenge of plastic pollution
Plastics have been widely used worldwide for almost a century as materials inextricably linked to everyday life and economy. Unfortunately though, the excessive use and accumulation of fossil-derived plastics that exhibit great strength and resistance to biodegradation, has inevitably led to the so-called plastic pollution.
Plastic pollution poses a significant threat to the environment, causing harm to marine and terrestrial ecosystems and disrupting ecological balances. Additionally, the production of fossil plastics contributes to the greenhouse effect. Recognizing these challenges, the EU implemented a European strategy for plastics in January 2018 as part of its commitment to a carbon-neutral and circular economy.
This strategy plays a crucial role in guiding Europe’s transition towards sustainable practices and reducing the negative impact of plastic pollution.In the framework of this strategy, measures are proposed for the gradual substitution of conventional fossil-derived plastics by bio-plastics i.e. alternative plastics that might be bio-based and/or biodegradable.
How does the project respond to the problem of plastic pollution?
Into this context, the SYMSITES project, responding to the multiple problems arising from plastic pollution, has included in its technological goals the synthesis of fully biodegradable plastics.
The SYMSITES project focuses on the production of microbial bioplastics known as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). These PHAs are generated through the bioconversion of effluent streams obtained from the anaerobic reactors at the Greek ECOSITE, which treat both municipal and industrial wastewaters. Notably, PHAs possess several advantageous properties: they are biodegradable, derived from natural sources, non-toxic, and biocompatible. Furthermore, they exhibit thermal and mechanical characteristics similar to conventional plastics such as polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PET), and polystyrene (PS). Due to these qualities, PHAs have the potential to replace fossil plastics in a range of applications.
Among them their use as food packaging materials are included, i.e. stable and flexible containers, films, bags, etc., which are widely used in the food industry but also daily in households. The possible substitution of the above, even partially, is expected to significantly contribute to the reduction of plastic pollution since it will lead to the use and therefore the accumulation of smaller amounts of conventional non-degradable plastics that degrade the environment and intensify the greenhouse effect.
However, the production cost of these materials is quite high and a significant part of the cost is attributed to the raw materials and the upstream production process. In the SYMSITE project, the production of PHAs is carried out by exploiting the residual streams of the overall process, contributing to the reduction of the production costs of the PFAs, but also to the sustainability of the proposed industrial-urban symbiosis through the maximum valorization of all streams generated in the different stages of the Greek ECOSITE.