Plastics could be made from sugar and composted at home.
Food packaging made from sugar has been developed by British scientists. It could soon be composted at home along with organic waste.
Researchers at Imperial College London have managed to transforms sugars found in fast growing trees and grasses into a large molecule, known as a polymer, that can be used to make plastic.
Although there are already plastics on the market made from natural materials like corn, these do not biodegrade quickly.
The new discovery would not only cut down on the use of oil, that is usually used to make plastic, but potentially enable people to compost plastic at home.
Plastics made from oil can take hundreds of years to decompose but the new material would break down in a matter of months.
Charlotte Williams, of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council who is helping to develop the new material, said plastics made from sugar could be on the shelves within five years.
“The development of the material is very promising and I’m optimistic that the technology could be in use within two to five years,” she said.
Around seven per cent of worldwide oil and gas resources are consumed in plastics manufacture, with worldwide production exceeding 150 million tons per year. Almost 99 per cent of plastics are formed from fossil fuels.
Dr Williams said the British research had worked out how to extract a polymer from glucose found in trees and grasses. Since these plants are not needed for food and require much less land to make the amount of plastic needed, it would be much less controversial than growing crops for fuel in cars.
The process is much less energy intensive than current methods of producing plastic. The new material is also better for the environment because it degrades quickly.
At the moment the research is concentrating on how to make plastics from sugar for the mass market but results are “very promising”. It will then be necessary to develop the product commercially and go through all the necessary regulations.