Poop to Plastic to Profit


Would you drink from water bottles made from raw sewage? You may soon have the opportunity, thanks to the rise of bioplastics. (BBC)

Use our resources to better understand the perils of (traditional) plastics.

Watch this video explaining how a California company is turning biological waste into biodegradable plastic.

Discussion Ideas

  • The poop-to-plastic process relies on anaerobic digestion, the process of using microbes to break down (digest) carbon inputs. This is hardly a new technique. How are engineers using anaerobic digestion in the fuel industry? How are their carbon inputs different from the poop-to-plastic process?
    • The production of biofuels relies on anaerobic digestion. Check out our video on biofuels to understand how scientists are converting biomass into fuels that are more sustainable and environmentally friendly than fossil fuels.
    • The biofuel industry relies on carbon feedstocks, including crops and municipal solid waste (garbage). The poop-to-plastic process uses sludge as a carbon input, with fewer steps.
  • Read our activity “The Perils of Plastic,” which explains how tons of plastic waste infiltrates marine ecosystems and encourages students to collect recyclable trash for a week. Modify the activity to only collect plastic recyclables—the fossil-fuel competition for bioplastics. The PHA bioplastic is study, flexible, and nearly identical to the fossil-fuel plastic used in most water bottles and packaging materials. What would be the environmental advantages to using bioplastic instead of regular plastic?
    • Bioplastic is biodegradable, meaning it will not break down into “nurdles” described in the activity. Nurdles and other plastics make their way into the food chain and can sicken or kill wildlife.
    • The bioplastic industry relies on sludge and microbes. Collecting these raw materials does not disrupt the environment in the same magnitude as extracting fossil fuels.
    • The waste material produced by the bioplastic industry (water and the wee microbes who gave their lives for our plastic pleasure) can almost all be recycled without toxic emissions.

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