The world may be turning away from petroleum as a vehicle fuel, but humans still use almost 600 billion plastic bottles made from petroleum each year. A small fraction is recycled into new materials; the vast majority are trashed and clog our oceans, waterways, garbage dumps, and roadsides, where their breakdown residues enter the food and water chains and, ultimately, our bodies.
Now VTT, Finland’s national technological skunkworks, has created a practical alternative to the ubiquitous PET petroplastic that bottles and other food containers are made from.
A VTT research team has designed a process that uses catalysts to turn orange peels, beet pulp, and other food waste containing pectin, a fibrous plant polymer, into a plastic called PEF.
Because it’s made from plants, PEF is entirely recyclable and biodegradable. Sourcing, manufacturing, and recycling it leaves only half the “carbon footprint” of PET. Just as important, PEF is a stronger barrier against contaminants than PET, meaning food and drinks stored in PEF containers have a longer shelf life.
The process of producing PEF can be readily scaled to commercial size, the developers say.
TRENDPOST: Petroleum-based plastics evolved in a world in which oil was cheap and endlessly plentiful, where convenience was king, and no one thought of the world as a closed-loop system. 
Now, petroplastics are understood as environmentally lethal as well as a waste of resources.  
VTT’s PEF process is one among a growing catalog of alternatives that can equal or beat PET’s cost and benefits while making plastic a benign component of the emerging circular economy.
Before 2030, oil-based plastics will virtually disappear from consumer products.

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