At the first day I arrived at Japan, just a several hours after we arrived at Narita airport (even we haven’t rest at all), I and all very tired-YSEP students are welcomed by the orientation sessions of Tokyo Tech Umegaoka Dormitory, and the longest session is about “How to separate your garbage!!”, such an important rules because in Yokohama prefecture there is a very strict regulation about it. You must not only separate your plastics and non plastics garbage, but SO MANY! Such as metals, bottles, reuse paper, reuse stuff, sharp garbage, beverage box, reuse box paper, etc. So, it is not just remove the garbage but you must take time to separate it well, because Japan Government is trying to make all the things friendly to environment.
Now I’m gonna tell you about the story of friendly plastics, that maybe someday the government will make a new rule to remove your plastics garbage by just bury it inside the ground! And they’ll gone!!!
Why do they are very strict about plastics is because, I think you’ve already know, that plastics and all product made from petroleum are very hard to decomposed by earth. The fuel-based plastic lock the carbon inside, and if it incinerated it’ll make CO2 pollution on atmosphere. Then Scientists and Engineers make a new kind of plastics called Biodegradable Plastics. The friendly environment plastics that degraded well by soil microbes.
I heard this from one of topic of Tokyo Tech & Tsinghua University Joint Symposium on New Frontiers in Biological System : From Molecule to Organism and Environment. 16 breakthrough researches presented by scientists, engineers, and the experts from research and development division of some biological, chemical, and pharmaceutical industry. I and Chandra as YSEP student here are very grateful attended this symposium, most of audience are professor, PhD and master students, only both of us are undergraduate student. And this is just one of story of 16 presented stories.
The biodegradable plastics can made from starch of vegetables such as corn, potatoes, rice, etc. Usually the biodegradable plastics composed from PHAs (polyhidroxyalkanoates) that produced by a wide variety of bacteria as intracellular carbon and energy storage materials from renewable carbon resources. As these bacterial PHAs are biodegradable thermoplastics, they have drawn increase attention as possible alternatives for petroleum-based polymers. But PHAs result by bacteria have a poor physical properties so that it can’t widely used for wide range application. Then Mr Toshiaki Fukui from Bioengineering of Tokyo Tech in this symposium explained his research about how to get a better physical properties plastics materials, and how to process it with low cost bioprocess. He used Ralstonia eutropha as a bio machine for PHA producing, the result is not s good, a brittle-poor biodegradable PHA. Then he did some modification in that metabolic biomachines by introducing the Aeromonas caviae genes inside them. The result is that bacteria highly yield 80% of P(3HB-co-3HHx)!! This material was better so much than PHA, it tougher and still well biodegradable. So that can be applied in plastics industry to produce a household product or other plastics stuff that friendly to environment.
But if that going true in the future, I think the price of potato chips will be more expensive then. Because the potatoes product are not only for potato chips and other meals, but also plastics. Of course it much more delicious to eat potato chips rather than “plastics chips” anyway!