Friday, January 7, 2011


Around seven percent of all petroleum products consumed are used to make plastics. Then, once it's made, the vast bulk of the 150 million tons of plastic made each year stays with us in landfills, or is burned in our continual quest to make air unbreathable. The plastics that aren't made from oil are generally made from food crops such as corn and beets.

In a classic case of killing three birds with one stone, scientists at London's Imperial College have developed a plastic made from fast-growing trees and grasses, and agricultural and food waste; in a low energy, low water use process; that readily decomposes.

In contrast, what currently passes as compostable plastic is polylactide - a product of corn starch that is produced in a high energy, high water use process, and that can only be composted at high temperatures in commercial facilities.

In short, this is a big step forward.

Biological, dissolving plastics are just one of many innovations - including self-healing vehicles, invisibility cloaks, and mood monitoring clothes - that New York Times technology reporter David Pogue covers in his four-part Making Stuff series that debuts on PBS on January 19. Here is a taster for it:

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA.

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