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5 Incredible Oil-Free Ways to Make Plastic

5 Incredible Oil-Free Ways to Make Plastic

Our dependence on fossil fuels, namely petroleum, is one of the biggest accelerators of climate change. Despite the obvious promise of solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy sources, the critics say we can’t live without oil. Not because we can’t power our homes and cars with something else, but because we’re addicted to plastic.

Plastic is part of nearly everything we touch, from packaging to electronics. It’s in our carpets, and bathrooms, and closets. It’s used in so many products because it’s “cheap” and durable.

Globally, we went from consuming 50 million tonnes of plastic per year in 1950 to 245 million tonnes in 2008, according to Plastics Europe. And it’s estimated that around 50 percent of that plastic is only used once, sometimes for mere minutes, before we throw it away. This plastic addiction has create massive environmental problems while simultaneously making the fossil fuel industry feel very loved.

“The production of plastic uses an incredible amount of fossil fuels. Most estimates put the figure at around 8% of the world’s oil production, 4% of which is actually used in energy consumption to make the plastic,” reports Plastic Oceans.

Since we seem to be incapable of going without plastic (or recycling it at rates that would really make a difference), the world’s leading inventors and scientists are on a quest to make plastic out of something–anything–besides oil. Here are five of the most promising ideas:

5 Oil-Free Ways to Make Plastic

plastic from shrimp shells

1. Shrimp Shells and Wood Flour

As Treehugger reports, researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute have developed a new bioplastic from chitosan derived from shrimp shells. Chitosan is a form of chitin, a natural polymer said to be the second most abundant organic material on Earth. Although the scientists had trouble getting the bioplastic, dubbed “Shrilk,” to hold its shape, they solved the problem by adding in another waste material: wood ‘flour’.

plastic from air pollution

2. Air Pollution

Talk about two birds with one stone. A California-based chemical technologies company has developed a manufacturing technology that captures airborne carbon, a major health and environmental hazard, and turns it into a replacement for oil-based plastics. ”By using carbon that would otherwise be in the air we are breathing right now, AirCarbon turns everyday goods into products that actually improve the environment,” said Mark Herrema, CEO, in a press release. “Combined with a cost profile that is more favorable than oil-based plastics, AirCarbon has the potential to change the world.”

plastic from banana peels

3. Banana Peels

Bananas are delicious and nutritious, but we may have been tossing their most valuable asset into the garbage pail for centuries. In 2013, sixteen-year-old Turkish student Elif Bilgin discovered that the the starches and cellulose in banana peels are perfect for making a non-decaying bioplastic. Bilgin hopes the banana bioplastic could be used to insulate wires and form medical protheses, reducing our dependence on oil-based plastic.

plastic from sewage

4. Sewage

One thing that we’ll always have in abundance (as long as humans roam the Earth) is sewage. Anywhere humans have settled, there’s bound to be a sewage treatment center nearby. Recently, a company called Newlight Technologies, LLC developed a way to capture the methane and carbon dioxide emanating from these facilities, and turn it into plastic. “First, a mix of gases, including methane and carbon dioxide, is funneled into a reactor. Next, carbon and oxygen are separated out, and then they are reassembled into a long-chain thermopolymer (aka: a form of plastic),” explains CleanTechnica.

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5. Whey

About 15 million tons of whey are produced each year by European cheese manufacturers, yet only a tiny portion of that whey is reused as food additives or supplements. A group of companies in the EU is working on technology that would allow them to turn this unwanted by-product into something useful, like bioplastic. The biodegradable material is said to be air tight and water resistant, making it ideal for food packaging.

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Images via Thinkstock

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95 comments

+ add your own
4:49AM PDT on May 12, 2014

THANKS

10:28AM PDT on Mar 21, 2014

And we're not using these why?

6:36PM PDT on Mar 19, 2014

Wow - that's an eclectic list of ingredients. Don't think it will happen very soon - the oil industry r u n s this country and, in reality, I suppose the world. Just can't see them giving up the cat-bird seat they're in right now.

11:13AM PDT on Mar 19, 2014

Get rid of plastic! Ar least start out with plastic bags and water bottles.Companies know how hazardous these things our to our health and environment, yet THEY STILL MAKE THEM!

7:10PM PDT on Mar 18, 2014

thanks

9:54AM PDT on Mar 18, 2014

We have used non petrolium methods for plastic production for years. Organic materials from soybeans to digested wood cellulose can be used.

5:33AM PDT on Mar 18, 2014

How about we just "do without" wherever possible. These things sound good but surely there is some environmental impact re producing them? And ?? what happens when we are done with them - do they just vanish? Somehow I doubt it!!

5:23AM PDT on Mar 18, 2014

noted. ty

2:43AM PDT on Mar 18, 2014

Noted

12:35AM PDT on Mar 18, 2014

Oil ressource are not infinite and it's seem me very important to have other possibility to procuct some oil base made product by other way as explain in is article, thanks.

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