AUSTRALIA – The University of Queensland (UQ) has received AUD$13 million (US$9 million) grant for research into “green” plastics.

The grant will be used in the university’s Australian Research Council Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Bioplastics and Biocomposites to make large-scale plastic pollution a “problem of the past.”

The center’s Director Dr. Steven Pratt says researchers will work toward developing bio-derived and biodegradable plastics with minimal environmental impact.

“Every year, it’s estimated more than 10 million tons of plastic leaks into oceans as part of the almost 400 million tons of plastic that’s destined for landfill,” said Dr. Pratt.

“Urgent change is needed, and biodegradable bioplastics along with their natural fiber composites will be pivotal.”

The research is expected to develop recyclable plastics as an alternative to today’s conventional plastics produced from the petrochemicals such as polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride and polystyrene.

The production of such plastics consumes more fossil fuels and thereby emits more amounts of greenhouse gases.

Compared to petrochemical plastics, bioplastics production emits about 80% less CO2 and consumes 65% less energy, according to Selvamurugan’s article on Bioplastics – An Eco-Friendly Alternative to Petrochemical Plastics.

Dr. Pratt asserts there was a rapidly growing local and international market for improved bioplastics.

“However, we need to consider their full life cycle, from the sustainable resources to make them right up to their end of life,” he remarks.

Experts have highlighted the danger of misunderstanding in the bioplastics space and called for urgent clarification, as many consumers mistake bioplastics as biodegradable.

Some reports have found bioplastics to have only a limited role in replacing plastics that cannot be recycled.

As reported by PackagingInsights, research by European Bioplastics has found that production of bioplastics will triple by 2025, with Asia set to hold a 70% market share.

In addition to improving material production, the center will focus on training to develop industry-ready researchers in chemical and materials engineering, polymer chemistry, environmental science, social science, policy and business.

The training center is a partnership between The University of Queensland and The Queensland University of Technology, alongside the Queensland Government, Kimberly-Clark Australia, Plantic Technologies, Australian Packaging Covenant Organization, Minderoo Foundation and the City of Gold Coast.

Belinda Driscoll, the Managing Director of Kimberly-Clark Australia, which manufactures personal care items, says the company has set an ambitious goal to halve its use of fossil fuel-based plastic in the next eight years.

“This partnership with the University of Queensland takes an important step toward creating more sustainable products and reducing our environmental footprint,” she concludes.

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