Waste from the paper pulp industry is being given a new life by turning it into bioplastics. Lignin, a tough structural material from plants, is a waste product of paper manufacturing which is usually burned as fuel. Now, a team of researchers and innovators has developed a biological method to extract valuable chemicals from lignin and turn them into plastic.
Professor Timothy Bugg at the University of Warwick used a BBSRC grant to identify a bacterial enzyme which can break down lignin. The research led to a collaboration with Biome Bioplastics, one of the UK’s leading bioplastic developers, to turn the extracted chemicals into bioplastics.
Further support from Innovate UK, EPSRC and BBSRC enabled the company to collaborate with the University of Leeds and the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI). The team are now demonstrating that lignin digestion products can be produced on a commercial scale for bioplastics production.
Plastic production is one of the UK’s biggest industries. It turns over more than £20 billion and exports more than £8 billion of plastic products each year . These existing links to a global market, along with the UK’s world-leading engineering biology sector and the UK Government’s aim to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by the end of 204210, means there are big opportunities in the UK for the bioplastics industry to redefine plastic production.
The charity WRAP estimates that 59% of UK plastic is used for packaging, such as trays and films, and their single-use nature makes these a clear product target for bioplastics companies such as Biome Bioplastics. The term bioplastic refers to plastic made from renewable materials, such as plant biomass, but Biome Bioplastics intend to create bioplastics that are just as eco-friendly at the end of their life.
Last updated: 15 March 2021