Wax worms for combating waste; Plastic sand

Weekly updates from WhatPackaging? to the new developments in the field of sustainability.

Wax worms can help fight plastic waste

A novel solution to alleviating the polyethylene crisis could be in wax worms. In an accidental discovery, the scientist Frederica Bertocchini found out that these worms were drilling holes in a plastic bag. To develop her discovery, she teamed up with scientists from Cambridge University and confirmed through several experiments that the worms are able to break the chemical bonds of PE. PE itself takes hundreds of years to decompose depending on its form and use. In one study, scientists found that 100 waxworms could biodegrade 92 milligrams of PE, or about 2.2 holes per hour per worm, in 12 hours. The answer lies in the worm’s physiology. Wax moths lay their eggs in beehives so that the wax worms can feed on beeswax. Both PE and beeswax are polymers made up of similar chemical bonds. It is believed that the worms ‘ability to break down beeswax is similar to the worms’ ability to break down plastic.

In a recent study by Pondicherry University, researchers found similar results in a smaller species of waxworm with a biodegradation rate of 2.01 holes per hour in PE film. A key element in this study compared survival rates between waxworms that feed only on PE and those on the traditional waxworm diet. Worms on a wax comb diet had a 92% survival rate, while waxworms on a PE diet had a 80% survival rate.

Use plastic waste to solve sand shortages

To reduce the need for sand, a small but growing number of researchers are turning to technology and innovation in search of alternatives. This includes Dr. John Orr, Lecturer in Concrete Structures at Cambridge University. His research has shown that plastic waste can be sorted, cleaned, shredded, and ground into a sand alternative for use in concrete. He specifically looked at the potential impact of the solution in India. Here the cost of sand has skyrocketed – while at the same time it is estimated that 15,000 tons of plastic waste are dumped in the country every day. “We found that up to 10% of the sand in concrete can be replaced with plastic, and it has the same strength and longevity,” said Dr. Orr. Unlike sand, plastic doesn’t adhere to the cement paste around it, so it can only replace 10% of the raw material, he says. “But that still saves a huge amount of sand and helps reduce the huge amount of plastic waste on India’s roads. Plastic can be cheaper by and large, especially since sand goes up in price when it becomes scarce.” Dr. Orr estimates that Through the use of plastic in the manufacture of concrete throughout India, 820 million tons of sand could be saved annually from tattered old car tires or polished glass.

Using blockchain to ensure traceability in plastic waste streams

Circulor has announced a partnership with energy company TotalEnergies and Recycling Technologies, a chemical plastics recycler, to develop a blockchain-enabled traceability solution for hard-to-recycle plastics (HTRP). Project Trackcycle will embed blockchain technology into the advanced recycling value chain with the aim of providing a fully traceable and accurately labeled record of recycled materials, from waste sourcing to the use of recycled polymers in new production streams. According to the companies, this will give polymer industry stakeholders some insight into the origins and quality of the materials entering and exiting their facilities. As part of the Trackcycle project, the TotalEnergies and Recycling Technologies teams plan to use their industrial and R&D expertise to improve the traceability of raw materials from post-consumer plastic waste used in the manufacture of recycled polymers. The consortium will work closely with several plastic waste suppliers, including a multinational FMCG company that supplies post-industrial waste.

DTU develops sustainability on the entire campus

The development of sustainability on the campus of the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) will become more visible in 2021 with the expansion of indoor waste sorting to 12 fractions and a digital recycling exchange where the departments can exchange materials. However, the greatest contributions to sustainability will be in the form of a reduction in energy consumption at the DTU and on the procurement side, where in future materials and products for the construction and operation of the campus will be assessed from a life cycle perspective. The new waste sorting solution is one of many priority areas of the DTU’s sustainability policy, which was developed in continuation of the DTU strategy 2020-2025: Technology for people, where sustainability is one of three goals. The guideline defines how the DTU will contribute to a sustainable transformation of society with words and deeds and how the DTU works internally with sustainability in research and academic activities, in management and in the overall culture of the university.

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