What can we do to stop the plastic pollution crisis? Molly Morse says, make an eco-friendly alternative. The world was left dumbfounded by the Castaway-like story of Jose Salvador Alvarenga, a 36-old fisherman from El Salvador who was found alive in 2014 on the southernmost tip of the Marshall Islands 438 days after a massive storm had slammed his boat off course. Without a working engine, GPS or cell-phone, his remarkable story of survival features tales of catching fish by hand and prayers to God as he drifted aimlessly.
A large part of Alvarenga’s survival came from the varieties of plastic he came across while afloat in the Pacific Ocean. The fisherman found bottles to store water in and rubbish bags with bits of food in them. Although it was a great fortune for him to have found plastic so far from the shore, it also shows the reality of the world’s plastic pollution crisis. Some researchers project that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.
Plastic pollution is often digested by animals such as birds and fish, and causes serious disruptions to their health. Plastic doesn’t decay and with just 5% of plastic waste being effectively recycled, the rest is left to break down, contaminating land and releasing harmful chemicals into the ocean. Oh, and did we mention it’s made from oil?
Meanwhile, few seem prepared to give up the convenience of plastic. Inexpensive and durable, it’s used in everything around us from toasters to cell phones. Since plastic does not react chemically with other substances, it’s useful for storing fluids like water or gasoline. So rather than getting rid of plastic, why not replace current forms of plastic that plague the planet with a kind of plastic made from the environment which is good for the environment?
That’s the idea behind Mango Materials, a San Francisco Bay Area-based start-up that seeks to transform methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into ecofriendly, affordable materials while creating a positive environmental impact. Mango Materials is taking captured methane and feeding it to methanotrophs, a type of bacteria that consumes the methane and turns it into biopolymer granules. Then, it’s ready to create biodegradable plastics to be used into products such as toys, packaging or agricultural and construction materials. When it’s time for disposal, these products can be sent to a waste resource recovery facility and broken back down into methane, making the process a closed loop cycle. In the unfortunate case that the plastic ends up in the ocean, it can quickly degrade back down into methane. Compare that to your average water bottles which can take 450 years to degrade.
“We’re huge advocates of a closed-loop carbon economy, recycling carbon and keeping it in a naturally occurring carbon cycle,” CEO and co-founder Molly Morse says. “There are good substitutes for conventional plastic goods. It’s silly to make something that is a single use item out of something that’s going to be very persistent in nature.”
Other companies use sugar or corn oil to make biopolymer, but the brilliance of the cradle-to-cradle system at Mango Materials is that they’re creating biodegradable plastic in a cost-effective way while removing a greenhouse gas from the atmosphere that is much more potent than carbon dioxide. With an endless methane feedstock from factories and waste treatment plants gladly giving it away, the bioplastic is economically viable in comparison to oil-based plastics.
The market is substantial. “Wherever there is industry, there is methane,” says Jack Hardiman, customer development team assistant. Most industries take their methane and burn it off as carbon dioxide. Instead, Mango Material is able to latch onto their methane supply and feed it into the bacteria. “The bacteria find it to be a very good exchange,” Hardiman says.
To get their foot in the door of the commercial world, Mango Materials is focusing on the plastic microbeads found in personal care products that will be banned in the U.S starting July 2017 under a recently passed law to stop the tiny balls of plastic from contaminating the nation’s waterways. use of the biodegradable plastic from Mango Materials though, companies would be able to continue producing everyone’s favorite way to exfoliate. Commercialization will surge biodegradable plastic into the everyday world, starting by cleaning faces and from there going on to clean the world by replacing the toxic plastic produced to this day.
Morse is looking to establish the first commercial plant in the next year or so, and then replicate it at a series of different sites across the country in the coming years. From there, the only way is up.
Source: The Optimist