Team:TecMonterrey GDA/Project/Justification

In a plastic world...

Polyethylene plastics compromise our marine diversity

Figure a. Marine biodegradation results for PHA and PLA after 180 days. From the study made in 2012: PLA and PHA Biodegradation in the Marine Environment by California State University, Chico Research Foundation, Joseph Greene, Ph.D.

Figure b. Marine biodegradation results for PHA and PLA after 360 days. From the study made in 2012: PLA and PHA Biodegradation in the Marine Environment by California State University, Chico Research Foundation, Joseph Greene, Ph.D.

Meanwhile in the Pacific Ocean (A.K.A Plastic Ocean):

Researchers have found 750,000 microplastic/km^2 in the garbage patch, marine life is plagued by them. Since plastic is not biodegraded it attracts toxins and heavy metals as it travel the seas. It has also been found that 40% of the world’s oceans are “gyres” which are formed when plastic is accumulated in powerful rotating spirals (Monks, 2016).

Compromising biodiversity in Mexico

Phocoena sinus (vaquita marina/marine cow) is an endemic mexican species, fishing their nutrition source (shrimp and some fish species) is one of the main causes for their almost extinction (only 30 are left). The Mexican government is planning on making massive efforts to save this specie however after putting it on a sanctuary and achieving the population increase, releasing the species into a contaminated sea which by 2050 is predicted to have more kg of plastic than fish, (WEF, 20016) and considering the large percentage of mammals with plastic components in the stomach (Center for Biological Diversity, n.d.) ….might seem a bit counterproductive.

Plastic problems

Annually 95% of the value of plastic packaging material worth $80-120 billion is lost to the economy. This is especially alarming considering that plastic packaging, is in it’s majority, a single-use product, and becomes even more alarming when the disposal is not properly made, and ends up in large bodies of water, affecting the ecosystem, of course. A report from 2016 made by the World Economic Forum predicts that, if we continue this way, by 2050, the oceans will contain more weight in plastic than in fish (WEC, 2016).

90% of plastics are made from virgin fossil stocks, taking up a whole 6% of the global oil consumption. Also, whole 32% of plastic packaging escapes collection systems, having economic costs by reducing productivity of vital natural cycles and systems and clogging urban infrastructures. Plastic also contain a blend of chemicals that makes some researchers raise concerns about potential adverse effects on human health and, of course, the environment (WEC, 2016).

not all countries have as a priority legislate norms concerning plastic treatment, disposal, limiting the production as well as adopting and implementing norms for plastic disposal in the household. In reality, a some governments are dealing with other problems, starvation, corruption, lack of education, unemployment; and other governments are just not interest enough to do so, as well as people might not be demanding it enough for it to happen. For one reason or another it is not being done enough by all, as the World Economic Forum reports it in 2016, only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling and at least 8 million tons of plastics leak into the ocean annually (WEF, 2016)

Proposals are often criticized for having a long impact at a large scale:

“Many innovations and improvement efforts show potential, but to date these have proved to be too fragmented and uncoordinated to have impact at scale.” (WEC, 2016).

But such a complex issue that englobes economic context, education and even a legal framework towards companies and infrastructure cannot be solved with only one “large scale proposal” or even several, multiple proposals have to work together to ensure we do not reach this future. Meaning that we can implement solutions around our context, a million small steps that sum up to a single effort to reduce the plastic in our oceans.

It would be ideal if plastic production reduces, if our global economy followed a circular model, but in our country it is not done yet, there has been some few movements and actions. For example, a law passed from 2010 that prohibited the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags but only in the biggest (and capital) city of Mexico. The effort is applauded however the law has some leakages…

1. Consideration on what they consider and classify as biodegradable (could be but at 100 years for example and the problem also revolves in the fact during that time what damage could that plastic be doing to the marine ecosystems) and the use of oxo-degradable plastics (problematic with these bags discussed below).

2. What the plastic industry and associations contribute to the economy? The plastic industry in Mexico contributes to the 3% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). They generate jobs for at least 150,000 people…

(Expansión, 2010).

Actually in an official study made by the SEMARNAT (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales/ Governamental organization for the Environment and Natural Resources) and INE (Instituto Nacional de Ecología/ National Ecology Institute) it was shown how HDPE with oxodegradable properties was actually contributing to the greenhouse gases emission by 24% more than non-oxodegradable production in Mexico (SEMARNAT, 2009). Lastly there is a chart that states that only 1.2% of recycled wastes are plastics (SEMARNAT, 2011).

Useful conclusions from these studies include the fact that not because something can be degraded doesn’t mean it is more environmentally friendly, therefore rethinking laws like the one mentioned above with specifying more on new obtaining methods, recycling and not using non-renewable resources would be more useful. Once conclusion made was that HDPE and LDPE in their oxodegradable form had more negative environmental impact out of the 6 plastics evaluated. Polypropylene bags have less impact only if they are adequately recycled. And they remarked the fact that from an environmental point of view, prohibiting PE plastic bags was not the most environmentally responsible solution because not only the production of oxodegradable plastics had more negative impact but if they did not implement recycling measures needed could be more harmful.

So, in the end the problem with one use plastic components is not only the disposal and the very grave issue of contamination marine ecosystems and urban areas, the resulting costs and loss of biodiversity but adding up to the carbon footprint (the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by a particular activity) and using non-renewable resources.

How our solution is compatible with solution key points extracted from both UN’s page and World Economic Forum:

Enforce and strengthen legislation to stop marine litter (UN, 2017).
- Invest in research to develop non-toxic material (UN, 2017).- PHA is biodegradable, it is used by bacteria as carbon storage, so producers can eat it under food deprivation conditions. (please visit the PHA degradation studies and PHA as a bioplastic)

Circular economy (WEF, 2016)
- Compatible with the model due to two main proposals: the first using a waste from Tequila production Agave bagasse as carbon source, and our second proposal using lactic waste waters from the dairy industry, which is also a very important economic force in Mexico. Agronomy is another consideration, it is not the only Agave type in Mexico, other types are used for production of different beverages, our project can be easily adapted to fit them as well, having more national reach... (Please visit our Entrepreneurship, and Integrated Human practices)

Not using fossil fuels for the production of plastic (WEF, 2016):
since the source of our bioplastic does not come from fossil fuels, the carbon footprint is drastically reduced.

It is important to know that our solution applies to our context but our production processes can be modified to address necessities of other countries, e.g. sugar bagasse, or other residual vegetal sources, the important thing to notice is that our process is more environmentally friendly in several stages (please check our Entrepreneurship, environmental analysis).

History and first bioplastics

Bioplastics are moldable plastic materials made up of chemical compounds that are derived from or synthesized by microbes such as bacteria or by genetically modified plants. They do not come from petroleum, bioplastics are obtained from renewable resources, and are biodegradable (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2017)

In the early 20th century, there was an explosion in the development and use of plastics,that as time passed by, enabled it to become present in a great variety of objects and appliances, gaining an undeniable importance. Despite efforts to encourage and support recycling, landfills are becoming filled with plastic refuse, accumulating in the environment. Adding up to that petroleum-based plastics is that petroleum resources are starting to be scarce (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2017)

It was until 1962 when the first bioplastic was discovered, polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) by the french researcher Maurice Lemoigne due to his works with Bacillus megaterium. This discovery was firstly overlooked due to the disponibility of petroleum. After the 1970’s however it started to become evident the need for alternatives. By the 21st century bioplastics became more and more studied, PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) and PLA (polylactic acid) appeared. Bioplastics have become desirable because degradations occur due to water and microorganisms, also because their degradation products are natural metabolites they are not only of interest for packaging but for medical application (capsules, drug-packaging etc) (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2017)


PHAs are polymers of hydroxyalkanoates, accumulated (and degraded) as a carbon and energy storage material in various microorganisms (more than 200) usually under certain growth conditions, such as limitation of N, P, S, Mg, or O2 in the presence of excess carbon source. Numerous bacteria such as Ralstonia eutropha, Alcaligenes latus, Azotobacter vinelandii, Azotobacter chroococcum, Methylotrophs, Pseudomonas, Rhodobacter sphaeroides, and recombinant Escherichia coli synthesize and accumulate PHA. These are synthesized from simple metabolic intermediates and polymerized for minimal disruption to the osmotic balance of the cell (Bioplastics information, 2014).

Problems concerning the global environment and solid waste management have created much interest in the development of biodegradable plastics. PHAs are quite promising biodegradable plastics because of its similar physical properties to petrochemical plastics and complete biodegradability. But the problem relies in the high production cost compared to others (Bioplastics information, 2014).

Biodegradation key studies

Studies of PHA degradation have been published since 2012, and other bioplastics have been tested as well in marine environment, relevant results include percentages of degradation after 180 days as well as the conversion to CO2 (Greene et al, 2012).:Studies of PHA degradation have been published since 2012, and other bioplastics have been tested as well in marine environment, relevant results include percentages of degradation after 180 days as well as the conversion to CO2 (Greene et al, 2012).

Figure a. Marine biodegradation results for PHA and PLA after 180 days. From the study made in 2012: PLA and PHA Biodegradation in the Marine Environment by California State University, Chico Research Foundation, Joseph Greene, Ph.D.

Figure b. Marine biodegradation results for PHA and PLA after 360 days. From the study made in 2012: PLA and PHA Biodegradation in the Marine Environment by California State University, Chico Research Foundation, Joseph Greene, Ph.D.

In both cases out of the other bioplastics testes, PHAs had the most biodegradable percentage, which makes it of high interest for one use applications (Greene et al, 2012).

The following tables are taken from the same study:

Table a. Marine biodegradation results for the bioplastics after 180 days.

Table b. Marine biodegradation results for the bioplastics after 365 days.

Other relevant conclusions include:

That Mirel PHA passed one of biodegradation requirements of ASTM D7081 by converting more than 30% within just 180 days. This was not tested in industrial compost environments but rather is tanks with water and soil samples of marine environments. PHA biodegradations were constant and consistent. Mirel 4100 PHA did not present a plateau in the biodegradation processes (Greene et al, 2012).

Plastic is useful but inconvenient

Plastic utilization vs Recycling

°For more than 50 years, global production of plastic has continued to rise. Some 299 million tons of plastics were produced in 2013, representing a 4 percent increase over 2012. Recovery and recycling, however, remain insufficient, and millions of tons of plastics end up in landfills and oceans each year.

°Today, an average person living in Western Europe or North America consumes 100 kilograms of plastic each year, mostly in the form of packaging. Asia uses just 20 kilograms per person, but this figure is expected to grow rapidly as economies in the region expand.

°According to the United Nations Environmental Program, between 22 percent and 43 percent of the plastic used worldwide is disposed of in landfills, where its resources are wasted, the material takes up valuable space, and it blights communities.

°Approximately 10–20 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year. A recent study conservatively estimated that 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing a total of 268,940 tons are currently floating in the world’s oceans.

°About 4 percent of the petroleum consumed worldwide each year is used to make plastic, and another 4 percent is used to power plastic manufacturing processes.

°In Europe, 26 percent, or 6.6 million tons, of the post-consumer plastic produced in 2012 was recycled, while 36 percent was incinerated for energy generation. The remaining 38 percent of post-consumer plastics in Europe went to landfills.

°In the United States, only 9 percent of post-consumer plastic (2.8 million tons) was recycled in 2012. The remaining 32 million tons were discarded.

(World Watch Institute, 2016)

More plastic facts!

°Recycling plastic saves twice as much energy as burning it in an incinerator.

°Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 Styrofoam coffee cups every year.

°Over 1,600 businesses are involved in recycling post-consumer plastics.

°PET plastic can be recycled into: clothing, fiberfill for sleeping bags, toys, stuffed animals, rulers and more.

°Only around 27% of plastic bottles are recycled

°Plastic bags and other plastic garbage thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1,000,000 sea creatures a year

°Existence of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, calculated to be twice the size of Texas and is floating somewhere between San Francisco and Hawaii. It's also 80 percent plastic, and weighs in at 3.5 million tons.

°It has been estimated that recycling, re-use, and composting create six to ten times as many jobs as waste incineration and landfills.

°Recycling saves 3 to 5 times the energy generated by waste-to-energy plants, even without counting the wasted energy in the burned materials.

°13.3% of plastic packaging was recycled in 2008.

°The recycling rate of 32.5 percent in 2006 saved the carbon emission equivalent of taking 39.4 million cars off the road, and the energy equivalent of 6.8 million households’ annual energy consumption, or 222.1 million barrels of oil.

°At least 90 percent of the price of a bottle of water is for things other than the water itself, like bottling, packaging, shipping and marketing.

°827,000 to 1.3 million tons of plastic PET water bottles were produced in the U.S. in 2006, requiring the energy equivalent of 50 million barrels of oil. 76.5 percent of these bottles ended up in landfills.

°Because plastic water bottles are shielded from sunlight in landfills, they will not decompose for thousands of years.

°Recycling one ton of plastic saves the equivalent of 1,000–2,000 gallons of gasoline.

°66% of energy is saved when producing new plastic products from recycled materials instead of raw (virgin) materials.

°For every 1 ton of plastic that is recycled we save the equivalent of 2 people’s energy use for 1 year, the amount of water used by 1 person in 2 month’s time and almost 2000 pounds of oil.

(, n.d.)

Why haven’t bioplastics reigned over?

Usually the processes have a low profit-cost ratio or would increase the market price in contrast to plastics, implications of plastic production are often overlooked by a lot of companies, new efficient ways to produce bioplastic need to be highly researched and impulsed so it can reign over the petroleum plastic emporium (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2014)


Entra en vigor este jueves la ley que prohíbe el uso de bolsas de plástico (2010). Expansión. Retrieved from:

Judith L. Fridovich-Keil (2017) Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from:

Polyhydroxy Alkonates (PHAs) (2014). Bioplastics Information. Retreived from:

Greene,J (2012) PLA and PHA Biodegradation in the Marine Environment. California State University. Retrieved from:

Recycling facts MrcPolymers (n.d.) MRC polymers. Retrieved from:


Packaging in Germany (2015) Umweltbundesamt

Fredén, J. (2017). The Swedish Recycling Revolution. Swedish Institute. Sweden Sverige. Retrieved from:

Chow, L. These 5 Countries Account for 60% of Plastic Pollution in Oceans (2015). EcoWatch. Retrieved from:

Valdivia, M. (2013). La verdad de los plásticos oxo-biodegradables. America Retail. Retrieved from:

Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, (19 January 2016) More Plastic than Fish in the Ocean by 2050: Report Offers Blueprint for Change

UN (2017). UN’s mission to keep plastics out of oceans and marine life. Retrieved from: OCEAN PLASTICS POLLUTION (n.d.) Center for Biological Diversity. Retrieved from:

Estudio comparativo de bolsas de plástico degradables versus convencionales mediante la herramienta de Análisis de Ciclo de Vida (2009) SEMARNAT Retrieved from:

Informe de residuos sólidos urbanos (2011). SEMARNAT. Retrieved from:

Monks, K. (2016). Un 'océano de plástico' está acabando con la vida marina en el Pacífico. CNN. Retrieved from:

The New Plastics Economy Rethinking the future of plastics (2016) World Economic Forum. Retrieved from: