New Invention Could Replace Polystyrene

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Inventors with the Agricultural Resource Service, the chief scientific research agency for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have discovered a way to turn common starches such as potatoes, wheat and corn into a polystyrene substitute.

Polystyrene, also know as plastic #6, is used in products such as packing and construction materials, as well as disposable dinnerware. This new finding may offer a way to replace non-biodegradable polystyrene with a more eco-friendly alternative.

Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911.com

According to a report by the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers (AFPR), 69 million pounds of expanded polystyrene was recycled in 2008. Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911.com

Inventors Gregory Glenn and Simon Hodson discovered that the new material is equally as strong, durable and versatile as polystyrene.

It not only looks like the original product, but also can be produced in a range of densities and formed and molded into various shapes, sizes and thicknesses.

Although the biodegradable foam is not waterproof, a corn-derived moisture barrier can be applied.

Polystyrene, as a type of plastic, is one of many products derived from petroleum. However, the use of a biofoam, in place of plastic, would greatly reduce usage of petroleum.

This polystyrene substitute is not the first bioplastic to be invented. The market is bursting with alternatives including polylactic acid (PLA), which is generated using corn instead of petroleum. Many of these substitutes can be commercially composted after use.

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