We've got a huge appetite for plastic in our culture, and while it may be cheap and easy to manufacture, getting rid of it is a lot more difficult, as phenomena such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch demonstrate.
We've also got a huge appetite for fossil fuels, and while they may be fairly cheap to burn, dealing with the increased emissions of greenhouse gases is also a lot more difficult. But if a new plastic manufacturing process from the company Newlight Technologies gets widely adopted, it could be a big step forward in sustainable and biodegradable plastics.
Newlight's process converts air and greenhouse gas into high-performance thermoplastics that are not only biodegradable, but that are claimed by the company to be able to "out-compete oil-based plastics on price and performance."
Their AirFlex plastics are made by extracting carbon and oxygen molecules out of air and greenhouse gases (including CO2 and methane) which could be fed from sources such as landfills, wastewater treatment plants, or energy plants. After extraction, the carbon and oxygen molecules are "re-arranged" into long-chain thermoplastic polymers which can then be used in a variety of applications, such as extrusion, injection molding, blown or cast film, fiber spinning, and more.
The company says their product is a truly sustainable one, cradle-to-cradle, as it requires no petroleum and no food crops to manufacture, and is biodegradable. According to their website, this is a tested and proven technology:
"The company’s technology has been continuously operated at large scale over a number of years on a variety of gas sources, ranging from methane-based biogas to CO2-rich air. Newlight’s conversion technology can synthesize high-performance thermoplastics from a wide range of sources, including methane and/or carbon dioxide from wastewater treatment facilities, landfills, anaerobic digesters, or energy facilities." - Newlight
Find out more at their website: Newlight Technologies.