Scientists replace plastic for grass in food packaging

Scientists have figured out a way to use grass instead of plastic in food packaging and slash carbon dioxide emissions

  • Researchers in Denmark created a way to use grass fibers to replace plastic for delivery food
  • The goal of the project is replace 210 kilotons of CO2 and 10 kilotons of disposable plastic packaging 
  • The packaging will be 100% biodegradable  
  • CO2 levels surged in 2020 to 2.6 parts per million 
  • Since 2000, atmospheric CO2 has risen about 12 percent

Researchers in Denmark have created a way to replace plastic used in delivery food with grass fibers, which they say is ‘100 biodegradable.’   

The project, known as SinProPack, aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 210 kilotons and 10 kilotons of disposable plastic packaging with 8 kilotons of grass fiber-based paper for the packaging. 

According to a statement from Aarhus University, more than 10,000 tons of packaging for take-away food are used each year in Denmark.

The abundance of green biomass in the country, along with high interest in green biorefining, makes the project of considerable interest to both businesses and the government.

‘Disposable packaging made of grass brings a lot of environmental benefits,’ said Anne Christine Steenkjær Hastrup, center director at Danish Technological Institute, in a statement. 

Researchers in Denmark have received €440,000 in funding for a project that will replace plastic for take-away food with grass fibers

The project aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 210 kilotons and 10 kilotons of disposable plastic packaging with 8 kilotons of grass fiber-based paper for the packaging

‘The packaging will be 100% biodegradable, so if someone accidentally drops their packaging in nature, it will decompose naturally.’  

In addition to grass, the project will look at clover for fiber sources, which will also be used as the primary biomass for future biorefineries.

It will also look at biomass from peat soil, though the researchers added this has more fiber and less protein. 

‘After we harvest the grass and extract the protein for animal feed, we can refine and pulp the grass fibers for cellulose, from which we can produce packaging,’ Assistant Professor Morten Ambye-Jensen from the Department of Biological and Chemical Engineering at Aarhus University added in the release.

Ambye-Jensen continued: ‘In this way, we can use and up-value a side stream from protein production. It’s a great way to create added value for biorefining, as not all grass fiber can necessarily be used as cattle feed.’  

Fiber accounts for approximately 70 percent of what is put into bio refiners after proteins have been taken out. 

So far, the project has received €440,000 in funding from the The Danish Environmental Protection Agency under the program for Green development and demonstration (GUDP).

It is expected to be completed in August 2023.

The project comes at a time when carbon dioxide levels are rising, even when taking into account the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Carbon dioxide levels surged in 2020 to 2.6 parts per million, one of the highest recorded since NOAA started tracking more than 60 years ago. 

Since 2000, atmospheric CO2 has risen about 12 percent and atmospheric methane has increased six percent. 

Revealed: MailOnline dissects the impact greenhouse gases have on the planet – and what is being done to stop air pollution

Emissions

Carbon dioxide

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. After the gas is released into the atmosphere it stays there, making it difficult for heat to escape – and warming up the planet in the process. 

It is primarily released from burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, as well as cement production. 

The average monthly concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, as of April 2019, is 413 parts per million (ppm). Before the Industrial Revolution, the concentration was just 280 ppm. 

CO2 concentration has fluctuated over the last 800,000 years between 180 to 280ppm, but has been vastly accelerated by pollution caused by humans. 

Nitrogen dioxide 

The gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) comes from burning fossil fuels, car exhaust emissions and the use of nitrogen-based fertilisers used in agriculture.

Although there is far less NO2 in the atmosphere than CO2, it is between 200 and 300 times more effective at trapping heat.

Sulfur dioxide 

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) also primarily comes from fossil fuel burning, but can also be released from car exhausts.

SO2 can react with water, oxygen and other chemicals in the atmosphere to cause acid rain. 

Carbon monoxide 

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an indirect greenhouse gas as it reacts with hydroxyl radicals, removing them. Hydroxyl radicals reduce the lifetime of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. 

Particulates

What is particulate matter?

Particulate matter refers to tiny parts of solids or liquid materials in the air. 

Some are visible, such as dust, whereas others cannot be seen by the naked eye. 

Materials such as metals, microplastics, soil and chemicals can be in particulate matter.

Particulate matter (or PM) is described in micrometres. The two main ones mentioned in reports and studies are PM10 (less than 10 micrometres) and PM2.5 (less than 2.5 micrometres).

Air pollution comes from burning fossil fuels, cars, cement making and agriculture 

Scientists measure the rate of particulates in the air by cubic metre.

Particulate matter is sent into the air by a number of processes including burning fossil fuels, driving cars and steel making.

Why are particulates dangerous?

Particulates are dangerous because those less than 10 micrometres in diameter can get deep into your lungs, or even pass into your bloodstream. Particulates are found in higher concentrations in urban areas, particularly along main roads. 

Health impact

What sort of health problems can pollution cause?

According to the World Health Organization, a third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease can be linked to air pollution. 

Some of the effects of air pollution on the body are not understood, but pollution may increase inflammation which narrows the arteries leading to heart attacks or strokes. 

As well as this, almost one in 10 lung cancer cases in the UK are caused by air pollution. 

Particulates find their way into the lungs and get lodged there, causing inflammation and damage. As well as this, some chemicals in particulates that make their way into the body can cause cancer. 

Deaths from pollution 

Around seven million people die prematurely because of air pollution every year. Pollution can cause a number of issues including asthma attacks, strokes, various cancers and cardiovascular problems. 

 

Asthma triggers

Air pollution can cause problems for asthma sufferers for a number of reasons. Pollutants in traffic fumes can irritate the airways, and particulates can get into your lungs and throat and make these areas inflamed. 

Problems in pregnancy 

Women exposed to air pollution before getting pregnant are nearly 20 per cent more likely to have babies with birth defects, research suggested in January 2018.

Living within 3.1 miles (5km) of a highly-polluted area one month before conceiving makes women more likely to give birth to babies with defects such as cleft palates or lips, a study by University of Cincinnati found.

For every 0.01mg/m3 increase in fine air particles, birth defects rise by 19 per cent, the research adds. 

Previous research suggests this causes birth defects as a result of women suffering inflammation and ‘internal stress’. 

What is being done to tackle air pollution? 

Paris agreement on climate change

The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change. 

It hopes to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C (3.6ºF) ‘and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F)’.

Carbon neutral by 2050 

The UK government has announced plans to make the country carbon neutral by 2050. 

They plan to do this by planting more trees and by installing ‘carbon capture’ technology at the source of the pollution.

Some critics are worried that this first option will be used by the government to export its carbon offsetting to other countries.

International carbon credits let nations continue emitting carbon while paying for trees to be planted elsewhere, balancing out their emissions.

No new petrol or diesel vehicles by 2040

In 2017, the UK government announced the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would be banned by 2040.  

However,  MPs on the climate change committee have urged the government to bring the ban forward to 2030, as by then they will have an equivalent range and price.

The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change. Pictured: air pollution over Paris in 2019.

Norway’s electric car subsidies

The speedy electrification of Norway’s automotive fleet is attributed mainly to generous state subsidies. Electric cars are almost entirely exempt from the heavy taxes imposed on petrol and diesel cars, which makes them competitively priced.

A VW Golf with a standard combustion engine costs nearly 334,000 kroner (34,500 euros, $38,600), while its electric cousin the e-Golf costs 326,000 kroner thanks to a lower tax quotient. 

Criticisms of inaction on climate change

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said there is a ‘shocking’ lack of Government preparation for the risks to the country from climate change. 

The committee assessed 33 areas where the risks of climate change had to be addressed – from flood resilience of properties to impacts on farmland and supply chains – and found no real progress in any of them.

The UK is not prepared for 2°C of warming, the level at which countries have pledged to curb temperature rises, let alone a 4°C rise, which is possible if greenhouse gases are not cut globally, the committee said.

It added that cities need more green spaces to stop the urban ‘heat island’ effect, and to prevent floods by soaking up heavy rainfall. 

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