We May Be Able to Make Plastic Sustainable Using Pine Needle Waste

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A team of scientists at the University of Bath in England is looking to pine trees to make the world’s plastic a little bit greener. As Seeker reports, the researchers have developed a way to swap the nonrenewable crude oil used in plastic production with a waste product derived from pine needles.

Pinene is the chemical compound that gives pine trees their unmistakable fragrance, and it’s also a common byproduct of the paper-making process. Instead of allowing the resource to go to waste, the University of Bath chemists lay out how it can be converted into a polymer in their paper published in the journal Polymer Chemistry [PDF]. Polylactic acids made from organic materials like corn or sugar are often mixed with caprolactone to create flexible plastics. While corn and sugar cane are renewable, the crude oil used to make caprolactone is not. By replacing caprolactone with the pinene-based polymer, the scientists say they’ve found a way to make plastic that’s sustainable.

Pine trees are used to make most of our paper, so obtaining the naturally occurring byproduct wouldn’t require the destruction of any additional trees. What’s more, the scientists say that the chemical make-up of the compound lends itself well to making oxygenated polymers that are biodegradable.

Only a few grams of the plastic have been made so far, but the team hopes their discovery will be used to manufacture plastic bags, food packaging, and medical implants down the road.

[h/t Seeker