Turning Sawdust into Plastic

Here's how one startup is turning trees into recyclable plastic bottles.🌳

Unexpected materials used as plastic alternatives

Origin Materials has developed a way to make recyclable plastic bottles from wood waste —instead of petroleum. The company extracts cellulose from wood to make paraxylene, a chemical used to manufacture PET bottles — PET bottles are usually made from petroleum and natural gas. Production and incineration of plastic release emissions — from as much as 189 coal power plants in 2019 according to the Center for International Environmental Law.

Startup Origin Materials is offering to pay $20 a ton for sawdust leftover at sawmills from transforming logs into lumber. To do this, Origin Materials extracts cellulose from the wood waste to create para-xylene, which is a hydrocarbon typically obtained from oil and used to produce polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which is a strong, clear and lightweight plastic that is among the most commonly used plastics. Opting to use wood waste instead of oil to manufacture the plastic resin absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere, according to Origin Materials, whereas drilling for the crude oil to manufacture plastic resin releases greenhouse gas emissions.

Critics of bioplastics say bottles could still end up in oceans and rivers. Bissell says part of solving the plastic problem is reaching better collection and recycling rates, reducing emissions, and thinking of sustainable ways to make it. Origin Materials is not alone its efforts to create plastic alternatives to help prevent plastic waste overcrowding landfills and overwhelming the world’s oceans, resulting in a world-wide plastic waste crisis. Startups and researchers the world over are turning to unexpected materials to use in the development of plastic alternatives including avocado seeds, lobster shells, fish scales and red algae and cactus leaves. Nestle, Danon and PepsiCo plan to use Origin’s bottles in 2022.