Czech scientists developing revolutionary microwavable, “smart” bioplastic bowl

Фото: UTB/Petra Svěráková

Czech scientists have invented a new kind of bioplastic which they say decomposes remarkably fast– and is highly resistant to heat. Researchers from Tomáš Baťa University in Zlín say the product could be brought to market within two years. It could represent a significant advance in global efforts to eventually replace single-use plastic waste.

Photo: Petra Svěráková/Tomáš Baťa University
China’s decision two years ago to impose a ban on the import of plastic waste set off alarm bells in countries throughout the European Union, which have historically done a poor job of recycling and storing plastics.

The Czech Republic, which jumped on the sorted waste bandwagon rather late, had by that time already become European leaders in sorting plastic waste – but lacked enough places to store it. Czech scientists at a research centre affiliated with Tomáš Baťa University in Zlín say they have found a more ecological solution to recycling plastics – namely, a polymer that decomposes quickly without harming the environment.

While not the first project of its kind, University rector Vladimír Sedlařík, who heads the Polymer Systems Centre in Zlín and leads the project, says the Czech “bio bowl” has an added benefit, which could spur food industry companies to become earlier adopters.

“This project arose from cooperation with our food industry partners, and our ‘bio bowl’ responded to their current needs. They wanted a bioplastic bowl that would also keep its shape also when a consumer heats something in a microwave.”

Photo: Petra Svěráková/Tomáš Baťa University
The new “bio bowl” or “smart bowl”, he says, will keep its shape, for example, even if used to boil water in a microwave. Most such bioplastic, polylactic acid-based materials, known as PLA, simply can’t take the heat, and so are of less use in the kitchen.

Petra Válková, a scientist working on the project at the Polymer Systems Centre, says the main component of the bowl comes from agricultural by-products that contain sugars, such as corn, potato, or rice starch or sugar cane.

“It’s a bowl made from bio components, such as lactic acid, which is a fairly readily available cheap raw material obtained from agricultural waste. To this are added other elements with a natural base. It’s a mix of polymers and natural components, from plants and so on.”

According to the Zlín-based scientists, the biomass produced in such a way decomposes in a technical compost in just a few months – a far shorter time that traditional plastics, which are oil-based polymers. Compost microorganisms help degrade compostable bioplastics to carbon dioxide, water and other compounds found in natural environments.

When it comes to traditional plastics, as well as paper and glass, Czechs are conscientious recyclers with around three-quarters of the population regularly sorting reusable waste, polls show.

Photo: Petra Svěráková/Tomáš Baťa University
Meanwhile, the Czech Ministry of Environment is working to prevent and reduce the use of single-use plastic products, raising awareness through a campaign called #dostbyloplastu or “Enough of Plastics”.

That campaign, launched in 2018, came in support of a proposed European Commission ban on single-use plastics, which puts the burden of cleaning up plastic waste on manufacturers.

Several big retailers in the Czech Republic have pledged to stop selling single-use plastics before an EU ban is in place, and introduced ways to make it simpler for customers to consciously avoid buying plastic products.