A research team at the University of Washington (UW) has developed a new compostable and recyclable bioplastic, which can degrade in garden compost conditions.

The result of this research was published in the Advanced Functional Materials journal. The paper was co-authored by UW materials science and engineering doctoral students Ian Campbell and Mallory Parker, UW postdoctoral scholar Paul Grandgeorge, among other undergraduate and master’s students.

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This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, Microsoft, and Meta.

Developed entirely using powdered turquoise cyanobacteria cells, commonly called spirulina, the new bioplastic is capable of degrading in the same timescale as that of a banana peel in a garden compost bin.

The processing technique used to develop this solution was the same used in conventional plastics, using heat and pressure to transform the spirulina powder into different shapes.

The team claimed that its design has mechanical properties directly comparable with single-use or petroleum-derived plastics.

UW assistant professor for materials science and engineering Professor Eleftheria Roumeli said: “The bioplastics we have developed, using only spirulina, not only have a degradation profile similar to organic waste, but also are on average ten times stronger and stiffer than previously reported spirulina bioplastics.

“These properties open up new possibilities for the practical application of spirulina-based plastics in various industries, including disposable food packaging or household plastics, such as bottles or trays.”

The team said it used spirulina in this biobased plastic to ensure that it could be cultivated on large scales.

Another major reason is that the spirulina cells, according to the team, can ‘sequester carbon dioxide’ as they grow, further converting the biomass into a carbon-neutral or even potentially carbon-negative feedstock.

However, the UW team said that its bioplastic is not yet ready for industrial use as it is ‘fairly brittle’ and ‘sensitive to water’.

The group is now focusing on addressing these issues by studying the fundamental principles and behaviour of the material.

Once these concerns are addressed, the researchers intend to design and develop an assortment of bioplastics that are expected to be similar to several existing petroleum-based plastics.