A sweet solution to plastics pollution

Read the full story from Northeastern University.

When Hongli (Julie) Zhu first came to the United States in 2007, she was surprised by the prevalence of single-use plastic containers at supermarkets and restaurants.

“The material is cheap and convenient, but most of these containers are not biodegradable,” says Zhu, an assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Northeastern.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 27 million tons of plastic were diverted to landfills in 2018. Plastic doesn’t decompose over time. It gets broken into smaller pieces known as microplastics that pollute rivers and oceans.

Zhu knew she wanted to develop a better alternative to one-time use plastics. In a paper published recently in the journal Matter, Zhu and her research team describe their solution: Turning a sugarcane byproduct into a sustainable, compostable, and inexpensive material that’s durable enough to serve as tableware, and that biodegrades within 60 days.

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