Airdate: Feb 10, 2011
Scientist: Richard Gross
Not only does bio-based plastic degrade in the environment, but when it does, no extra carbon dioxide is released.
JM: If you're trying to figure out your carbon footprintthe amount of fuel and other carbon-based materials you use every daywell, be sure to add your plastic packaging to your calculations. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Conventional plastic is petroleum-based, and when it degrades, it eventually releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Well, biodegradable plastics release carbon dioxide too, but there's a difference. Richard Gross is a professor of chemistry at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, where new plant-based plastics are being developed.
RG: "We take sugars from plants; we take natural oils like soybean oil or palm oil, and we convert those basic plant materials to chemicals. So instead of taking the petroleum-based carbon that's been sitting in the earth for so long, and then turning it into a plastic, and then turning that plastic back out into carbon dioxide, causing global warming, instead, we're taking the carbon that was just in the air, and the plant fixed it, turned it into the oil and turned it into the sugars, and then we make something from it so it's the carbon dioxide that was in the atmosphere, say just six months ago. The plant fixed it, we use it, covert it to the plastic, and now if it goes back to carbon dioxide, it's a cycle. And we're not creating any additional carbon dioxide. We're taking the same carbon dioxide that was in the air and returning it back to the air."
JM: Richard Gross is one of the scientists in this year's Kids' Science Challenge, our free nationwide competition for 3rd to 6th graders. Check out kidsciencechallenge.com. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.