Globally, citizens of the planet create an immense amount of non-renewable plastic waste every day. However, recent research released by a team of Chemists at the University of Bath has shown that it is possible to create renewable plastic using pinene – a chemical found within pine needles.
Currently, sustainably produced plastic is manufactured using derivatives of sugar or corn but in order to allow the material to have flexibility polymer caprolactone (a derivative of crude oil) is included in the product. This addition ceases to make the plastic sustainable.
While the sustainably produced plastic will not necessarily emit the lovely smell of pine associated with pine needles, Professor Matthew Davidson, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) stated in a Tech Times interview that the ability to use pinene in place of crude oil “reduces our reliance on fossil fuels and provides a renewable feedstock that has the potential to revolutionize the chemical industry.”
The optimism surrounding the discovery of the ability to create renewable plastics using pinene is strengthened by the fact that the terpene is created as a waste product of the paper industry. Thus, the new form of renewable plastics reduces the amount of garbage generated in two ways, extending its impact and emphasizing the importance of the connection between pine needles and plastics.
Beyond the initial findings, the success of the research done by the University of Bath team suggests that it may be possible to extract and use other naturally occurring compounds in the creation of renewable plastics. In a piece written for Seeker, author Alyssa Danigelis reports that a compound found in citrus fruit waste is slated as the next potential sustainable resource to be explored.
As the amount of toxic plastic waste polluting the waters, beaches and green space around the world grows, so too does the need to identify ways to sustainably produce plastic. Discoveries, such as pinene in pine needles, offers much needed hope in this search and offers a solid foundation for future research and development in the area of renewable plastics.