Recycling. Love or loathe it, it’s a government initiative which is here to stay. And in the most part, it is a wonderful thing. But then we come to the thorny issues of plastic recycling. Look at most plastic bottles in your day to day life, and you’ll see the recycling symbol. That’s a good thing, right? Sure, by recycling the materials we are reducing demand on the raw materials – crude oil and virgin plastic. But recycling is only effective with consumer compliance, and can only be done a finite amount of times.

 

Looking at just one type of plastic, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) as an example, let’s look at the pros and cons of continuing to use petrochemical based plastics in food packaging.

 

Cons

 

The production of this material involves the use of toxic and potentially toxic chemicals. Phthalate esters have been shown to be possible endocrine disruptors – chemicals which act like hormones in the body and can interfere with normal male and female hormone production, as well as causing potential damage to the foetus and may be linked to some cancers.

 

The production process of PET involves the use of antinomy based catalysts, such as antimony triacetate or antimony trioxide. The element antinomy is not dangerous, but when it becomes a compound, and particularly in the case of antinomy trioxide, then the material may be carcinogenic.

 

Acetaldehyde and formaldehyde are produced during the process. Both materials are hazardous to health in high concentrations.

 

 

 

Pros

 

The material is accepted by the food industry and relatively cheap

 

 

 

It is worth noting, that to recycle PET to be able to be reused for food, complete depolymerisation is required, which not only produces the chemicals listed above, but also requires vast amounts of energy to perform this depolymerisation. This seems like a lot of hassle to go to for a material which will probably end up being discarded anyway…

 

As I mentioned at the start of this blog, recycling is a fantastic scheme. And even recycling plastics is better than single use then discarding to landfill, but the use of traditional petrochemical plastics is unsustainable – and just because we have always used a material, there is no excuse to continue its use if that material is known to be a danger to health. It truly is time for a change. Time to switch to sustainable, renewable bioplastic based packaging.

 

 

 

Dr Ryan Taylor

 

 

 

Two months on and the whole team at CuanTec are still smiling.

The roller-coaster express that is CuanTec on steriods rolls on and we were delighted, if a little surprised, to be awarded the top possible prize of £150k at the Scottish Edge Round 10 awards at the end of June. The tune "Rock Lobster" will have a special place in our hearts from now on.

Edge is a big deal for us. It provides a very welcome cushion of funds that will get us past the end of the SMART feasibility work and into the market place, allowing us to get there faster by bringing additional skills and expertise from both new employees and also external consultants with the specific skills to get us to the next stage.

The focus is now on planning the execution of work in the lab and on the commercial front for the next couple of months to make sure that none of that belief in us that the judges showed goes to waste.

If anyone is thinking about Edge Round 11, then I can only say GO FOR IT. Don't hold back. It is true that some companies apply several times before winning anything, but we are proof that sometimes a first timer, in a brand new company can also walk away with the top prize.

I'm not sure that I've ever been so proud of an achievement. I've never won anything before - and this is a win that I am so pleased to be part of. Team work has got CuanTec this far and teamwork will take us forwards too.

I was driving to the lab one morning when I heard a discussion on the radio. The discussion was about the effects of plastics on animal health, as well as environmental issues. I am sure I don’t need to talk ad nauseam about whales dying and the damage to other sea life. The pictures of the two sperm whales washed up recently with stomachs full of plastic shows the of the injustice and disgrace of plastic pollution in our seas far more than I can articulate. But the issues go further. Plastics which end up in the sewerage system and ultimately in ponds, rivers and seas does more than cause death by malnutrition or starvation, they can actively change the gender of fish.

Plasticisers used in the production of many common plastic items can leach into water over time. These can cause biological changes to male organisms, because the plasticisers can mimic the female hormone, oestrogen. When male organisms have elevated oestrogen, they begin to develop female characteristics. In the case of fish, it has been shown that male perch exposed to some of these chemicals are beginning to develop eggs. This is obviously not an ideal situation for these animals.

In fairness, plasticisers are not the only culprit. Hormone based medications can also have an effect. However, if we can at least reduce the amount of harmful waste causing damage to the environment by reducing the amount of traditional plastic that causes issues like the one just discussed, then surely that can only be a good thing.

 

 

Ryan Taylor