U of M Researchers Work to Make Environmentally-Friendly Plastic Bags

August 02, 2016 08:59 PM

In June of 2017, most plastic bags will be banned in the city of Minneapolis; the city council approved the ban in April.

A recent KSTP/Survey USA question asked 500 adults if they would support or oppose a government ban on plastic shopping bags: 44 percent support it, 32 percent oppose it and 24 percent weren't sure.


5 EYEWITNESS NEWS was invited behind-the-scenes at the University of Minnesota to see what researchers are doing that could eliminate the whole plastic bag debate; it’s a question that scientists in the industry have been trying to answer for years. 

Director Marc Hillmyer showed us some examples of biodegradable plastics they've already developed that are made from plants. Hillmyer says they could someday replace plastics made from oil or gas that are not biodegradable. 

"This guy is pretty tough and pretty strong, and there are actually versions that are pretty elastic that you can stretch, but they are biodegradable," Hillmyer said.

Hillmyer said the University of Minnesota is already using products developed through their research.

"In fact, here at the U of M, all of our plastic packaging and tableware and cups are made from a biorenewable polymer," he said.

But Hillmyer says biodegradable plastic is much more expensive to make, at least right now.

"We're trying to make the biobased alternative the cheap one, and so when we go to the store you'll have no choice but to buy the least expensive one, but one that's also biobased and degradable," he said.

It will be decades before most of the plastic bags we use are made from plants, but researchers at the University of Minnesota, like Dr. Maddie Radlauer, are working to make it happen.

Radlauer is one of 60 researchers at the University of Minnesota Center for Sustainable Polymers.

"The sooner we pick up new technologies, the better it is, the faster we stop adding to the big piles of plastic in the ocean," Radlauer said.

The Center for Sustainable Polymers is doing research to make new plastics that are friendly to the environment and industry. Learn more here.


Kevin Doran

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