Scientists Find Way to Make Biodegradable Plastic from Trees

Category : Science/Environment

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. biodegradable / ˌbajoʊdɪˈgreɪdəbəl / (adj) – able to be broken down by living organisms or natural processes

    Scientists want to develop biodegradable plastic to solve the planet’s waste problem.

  2. feed on (something) / fid ɔn / (phrasal) – to use something as food (usually used for living things other than humans)

    Frogs and lizards both feed on insects.

  3. base / ˈbeɪs / (n) – the main ingredient of something

    For the new biodegradable material, scientists used a substance from plants as base.

  4. dispose of (something) / dɪˈspoʊz əv / (phrasal) – to throw away, destroy, or get rid of something

    The government will impose fines on people who improperly dispose of their trash.

  5. fume / fjum / (n) – unpleasant smoke or gas

    The factory was ordered to close after researchers proved that it releases toxic fumes.


Read the text below.

University of Warwick /ˈwɒr.ɪk/ researchers have discovered a way to create biodegradable plastic using a substance found in trees.

The substance, called lignin /ˈlig·nin/, is a chemical compound that holds the trees’ fibers together. It is removed whenever wood is made into paper because the chemical lessens the strength of paper.

To create the eco-friendly plastic, the researchers altered a type of bacteria that naturally feeds on lignin. The modified type of bacteria then gains the ability to break down the substance and turn it into the base of a strong, biodegradable plastic.

The researchers hope that this new plastic would be in mass production within five years. They also expect that this product can help lessen the impact of non-recyclable plastics on the environment.

Non-recyclable plastics, such as bags and some types of bottles, threaten the environment in different ways. Firstly, plastic is sometimes mistaken for food by some animals like cows, birds, and whales. Secondly, non-recyclable plastics can release toxic substances into the environment when improperly disposed of. Burning plastic releases toxic fumes into the air, while burying plastic waste can facilitate the contamination of underground water supplies.

Aside from lignin, another chemical found in trees can be made into biodegradable plastic. In 2017, researchers from the University of Bath in the United Kingdom created a biodegradable plastic from a chemical called pinene [PAHY-neen]. This chemical is found in pine needles and gives pine trees their unique smell. Like lignin, pinene is also a by-product of paper production. The researchers used pinene to replace a non-biodegradable rubbery substance made from crude oil to develop the renewable plastic.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• What do you think would happen if we replaced all non-recyclable plastics with biodegradable plastics?
• How can more people be encouraged to use biodegradable plastics?

Discussion B

• How can we eliminate non-recyclable plastics that are already in the environment (e.g. in oceans, in landfills)?
• Do you think companies should stop manufacturing non-recyclable plastics altogether? Discuss.

Category : Science/Environment