01.10.2021 Views

Where Engineering & Chemistry Intersect for Broader Impact

Currently, many biodegradable products in the market are bio-based, such as polysaccharides, proteins, and lipids, and are focused on conventional plastic applications. This approach to production of biodegradable plastics, however, is facing mounting challenges due to high cost, weaker performance, and environmental issues. In addition, several biodegradable plastics have proven to break down quickly under specific, simulated environmental conditions, but they may not be effectively degradable under natural conditions. As a result of these challenges and many more, there exists a gap in the market. Our Project Affiliates, Dr. Son and Dr. Krueger, aim to bridge this gap by pursuing a biodegradable plastic that better addresses the aforementioned challenges, investigating a prototype plastic with predictable degradation and mechanical properties. In the spirit of interdisciplinary innovation, they seek to develop a joint chemical and engineering approach to biodegradable plastics for broader impact.

Currently, many biodegradable products in the market are bio-based, such as polysaccharides, proteins, and lipids, and are focused on conventional plastic applications. This approach to production of biodegradable plastics, however, is facing mounting challenges due to high cost, weaker performance, and environmental issues. In addition, several biodegradable plastics have proven to break down quickly under specific, simulated environmental conditions, but they may not be effectively degradable under natural conditions. As a result of these challenges and many more, there exists a gap in the market.

Our Project Affiliates, Dr. Son and Dr. Krueger, aim to bridge this gap by pursuing a biodegradable plastic that better addresses the aforementioned challenges, investigating a prototype plastic with predictable degradation and mechanical properties. In the spirit of interdisciplinary innovation, they seek to develop a joint chemical and engineering approach to biodegradable plastics for broader impact.

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“As a chemist, I have the capability and knowledge to design a material from the molecular level

up. It’s a challenge to synthesize a material with the ‘right’ properties. You can prepare a

material cheaply, but it may not degrade. Or you can make a material that degrades too

quickly or is not 3D-printable. In today’s world, the plastics disposal problem is not going away

anytime soon, and it is exciting that Professor Krueger and our labs can help make a

difference.”

- Dr. David Son

“Material properties are important for durability and functionality of engineered systems. But

they are also important for what happens when you are finished using the system. Having

materials that can fulfill their design role as well as existing materials and can also easily

degrade to facilitate future disposal is extremely valuable, but difficult to achieve. It’s a pleasure

working with Prof. Son to achieve this dream and help to reduce plastic waste.”

- Dr. Paul Krueger

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Undergraduate Research Analyst:

Katie Nguyen

Contributing Editors:

Sam Borton & Corrie A. Harris, M.A., M.B.A.

Undergraduate Project Managers:

Sydney Lobato and Taylor Grace

Undergraduate Lab Researchers:

Son Lab: Anderson Wey and Jamie Hall

Krueger Lab: Sami Streb

Global Development Lab Portfolio Manager:

Corrie A. Harris, M.A., MBA

Hunt Institute Affiliates:

Dr. David Son and Dr. Paul Krueger

Southern Methodist University | Lyle School of Engineering

Hunter and Stephanie Hunt Institute for Engineering & Humanity

Global Development Lab

Summer 2020 - 2021

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Table of Contents

Table of Figures ________________________________________________________________ 5

Executive Summary _____________________________________________________________ 6

Global Plastic Waste ____________________________________________________________ 8

Plastic Medical Waste ________________________________________________________________ 9

Environmental Waste due to COVID-19 __________________________________________________ 11

Biodegradable Plastics Industry __________________________________________________ 14

Plastics in the Medical Sphere _________________________________________________________ 14

Biodegradable Supply & Demand ______________________________________________________ 15

Biodegradable Market Trajectory ______________________________________________________ 16

Our Biodegradable Research _____________________________________________________ 19

Dr. David Son Lab ___________________________________________________________________ 19

The Dr. Paul Krueger Lab _____________________________________________________________ 21

Progress Summary - Fall 2020 _________________________________________________________ 22

Recommendations _____________________________________________________________ 26

Appendix A ___________________________________________________________________ 27

Covid-19 Specific Findings ____________________________________________________________ 27

Appendix B ___________________________________________________________________ 31

Plastic Bags and Single-use Plastic Items _________________________________________________ 31

Works Cited __________________________________________________________________ 33

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Table of Figures

Figure 1: How Plastic Enters the World’s Oceans (Our World in Data) ____________________________________ 8

Figure 2: Environmental activist Gary Stokes collected dozens of discarded masks from a Hong Kong beach (Oceans

Asia) ______________________________________________________________________________________ 12

Figure 3: Projected medical plastics market by region (marketsandmarkets.com)__________________________ 17

Figure 4: Global Protective Face Masks Market (gminsights.com) ______________________________________ 18

Figure 5: Experimental setup for monomer synthesis ________________________________________________ 22

Figure 6: Circular mold (left) and plastic (right) _____________________________________________________ 23

Figure 7: Dog bone-shaped plastic in a silicone mold ________________________________________________ 23

Figure 8: (Right) freshly prepared plastic; (Left) plastic after exposure to room environment for several weeks __ 24

Figure 9: Tensile test results for dog-bone test sample _______________________________________________ 25

Figure 10: Number of cases reported each day in the U.S. since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak (cdc.gov) 27

Figure 11: PPE found on beaches and in oceans. (OceansAsia.org, Naomi Brannan) _______________________ 30

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Executive Summary

In the Hunter and Stephanie Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity’s Global

Development Lab, our interdisciplinary teams made up of students, fellows, faculty, and

industry professionals are working to create meaningful solutions to promote a resilient

humanity, all of which address the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This

report addresses biodegradable plastics where engineering and chemistry intersect.

Currently, many biodegradable products in the market are bio-based, such as

polysaccharides, proteins, and lipids, and are focused on conventional plastic

applications. This approach to production of biodegradable plastics, however, is facing

mounting challenges due to high cost, weaker performance, and environmental issues.

In addition, several biodegradable plastics have proven to break down quickly under

specific, simulated environmental conditions, but they may not be effectively degradable

under natural conditions. As a result of these challenges and many more, there exists a

gap in the market.

Our Project Affiliates, Dr. Son and Dr. Krueger, aim to bridge this gap by pursuing a

biodegradable plastic that better addresses the aforementioned challenges, investigating

a prototype plastic with predictable degradation and mechanical properties. In the spirit

of interdisciplinary innovation, they seek to develop a joint chemical and engineering

approach to biodegradable plastics for broader impact.

There are many uses for biodegradable plastics to address our current state of

plastics pollution. One potential future application could be biodegradable plastic

used in combination with 3-D printing technology specifically designed for use with

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the unique geometric properties of the biodegradable prototype plastic. Compatibility with

3D printing methods would help to facilitate biodegradable plastic’s replacing of other less

desirable materials, especially given its rapidly growing adoption and application for

manufacturing both prototype and production components. The lab is developing a 3D

printing technology (extrude and cure additive manufacturing, or ECAM) that can

simultaneously print and cure thermoset polymers such as those considered in this

project.

Another significant opportunity for the biodegradable plastic industry is an application

towards alleviating medical waste. Focusing on both producing better-quality medical

supplies and reducing the end-of-life waste associated with such products, this

application works toward both the third UN SDG “to ensure healthy lives and promote

wellbeing for all at all ages” and the fourteenth UN SDG, which aims “to conserve and

sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources.” [1]

In order to address this challenge, our team of multidisciplinary students and subject

matter experts have been working diligently to develop a biodegradable plastic with

more desirable characteristics and predictable degradation properties that could both

address medical waste and potentially be used in 3D printing. The remainder of

this report will provide a market analysis of biodegradable plastics, a discussion of their

applications, and updates from the labs progress in their research.

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Global Plastic Waste

The increasing environmental concern surrounding the use of traditional plastic

materials has resulted in a demand for industry and academia to research and

provide innovation in order to develop sustainable solutions.

The growing amount of un-recycled plastic has created serious pollution and

environmental damage globally since the 1960s. [2] Plastic waste build-up in oceans has

captured the public’s attention. In 2018, China announced it would no longer buy twothirds

of the world’s waste. The impact of China no longer managing this waste is the

displacement of as much as 111 million metric tons of plastic waste by 2030. [3] This

resulted in an increase of waste management facilities disposing plastic waste in landfills,

marine sites, or incinerators, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: How Plastic Enters the World’s Oceans (Our World in Data)

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National Geographic estimates that of the 8.3 billion metric tons of all plastics that

have been produced 6.3 billion metric tons have become plastic waste, a staggering

76%. Out of that waste only 9% is believed to be recycled. The vast majority, ~ 79%, is

accumulating in landfills or sloughing off in the natural environment as litter. [3] Eventually,

plastic waste ends up in the oceans, with an estimate range of 4-12 million metric tons

generated on land entering the marine environment in 2010 alone. [4]

Plastic Medical Waste

The environmental non-profit Health Care Without Harm estimates that the world’s

healthcare industry contributes to just over 4% of the world’s emissions, much of that from

round-the-clock care. [5] While hospitals will most likely not reach a zero-waste state, the

facilities can reduce plastic waste, equally promoting wellness and sustainability.

Plastics are hygienic, versatile, and affordable. They have long been essential,

keeping hospitals running, supporting the care of patients, and ensuring front-line workers

stay safe. Healthcare facilities in the United States generate approximately 14,000 tons

of waste per day, many of which are incinerated or left in landfills. [6] Plastics represent 20-

25% of the total waste portion of the medical waste, which is significantly higher than that

of municipality solid waste. [7] ~ 3,150 tons a day equates to ~1,149,750 tons of medical

plastic waste annually.

Untreated health care waste is typically processed in landfills or incineration.

Disposing untreated health care waste in landfills can lead to contamination of drinking,

surface, and ground waters, along with the soil and the air, if those landfills are not

scientifically constructed. [8]

Incineration of waste has been widely practiced but

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inadequate incineration or the incineration of unsuitable materials results in the release

of pollutants into the air. [9] Specifically, contaminated syringes and needles represent a

particular threat, because disposing of them incorrectly could lead to dangerous recycling

and repackaging or unsafe reuse. All pose as a health threat.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “85% of all medical waste is

incinerated even though only 15% of it is considered biohazardous.” [7] In fact, 25% of

healthcare’s annual waste generated from U.S. facilities are clean, noninfectious plastics,

amounting to approximately one million tons per year of valuable polymers that could

potentially be recycled and reused.

With a significant rise in the demand for eco-friendly and sustainable products from

end-users in the healthcare industry, the adoption of biodegradable medical plastics is

growing at a rapid pace. As covered previously, hospitals and healthcare centers usually

dispose of the dangerous waste appropriately and send the rest to landfills. However,

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growing environmental awareness and sustainability among consumers is influencing

manufacturers and end-users to adopt sustainable solutions.

Environmental Waste due to COVID-19

With the need for single-use PPE being a central issue during the COVID-19

pandemic, the market for biodegradable plastics in the medical industry has greatly

expanded and is relevant to this research (see Appendix A).

In the spring of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic brought a dramatic increase in the

use of plastic, the main component in masks, gloves, hand sanitizer bottles, protective

medical suits, test kits, takeout containers, delivery packaging, and more items central to

the locked-down, hyper-hygienic way of life. Moreover, there are many other plastic items

widely used in medical applications for creating a sterile environment, such as pill casings,

disposable syringes, catheters, and blood bags. These items are made of synthetic

polymers such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and PP, which are not

biodegradable. [10] Therefore, it is not surprising to see that there was an increase in

medical waste generated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Figure 2: Environmental activist Gary Stokes collected dozens of discarded masks from a Hong Kong beach

(Oceans Asia)

An additional consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been that recycling and

municipal waste services in the U.S. and beyond have been significantly limited, which

means that the excess of plastic might fall into the category of unrecycled. [11] The global

demand for certain uses of plastics has increased due to the pandemic. The polymers

used in lifesaving medical equipment, such as N-95 masks, polyethylene used in Tyvek

protective suits, and PET in single-use plastic water bottles and medical face shields have

all seen a rise in demand during the global pandemic.

Officials had to construct a new medical waste plant to combat the influx of medical

waste generated by hospitals in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province in the People’s

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Republic of China, where the coronavirus first emerged. Hospitals there produced six

times as much medical waste at the peak of the outbreak as they did before the crisis

began. [12] The daily output of medical waste reached 240 metric tons, about the weight of

an adult blue whale.

With the novel coronavirus being a new strain, there was a deficient in standard

operating procedures, insufficient resources, and lack of employee training on how to

handle, manage, and dispose of the virus. This resulted in more materials being managed

through traditional waste processes--incineration and sanitary landfill. The Center for

Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that “medical waste from COVID-19 can be

treated the same way as regular medical waste, that is burning, sterilized with steam, or

chemically disinfected before going to a sanitary landfill.” [13] However, regulations on how

to treat that waste vary by location and can be governed by state health and

environmental departments, as well as by the Occupational Safety and Health

Administration (OSHA) and the Department of Transportation causing confusion for waste

management providers.

While plastics such as gloves, masks, and other medical equipment are important for

protecting against the spread of the virus, the pandemic serves as a reminder of how

much waste is produced and how it is can be managed or mismanaged. It also shines

light on the need for biodegradable plastic alternatives, especially in the medical field.

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Biodegradable Plastics Industry

Plastics in the Medical Sphere

Medical disposables can be defined as single-use products that are used in surgical

and procedural applications. A fact sheet published by the American Chemistry Council,

a plastic trade group, says, “Single-use plastics are the cleanest, most efficient way” to

facilitate health and hygiene in hospitals. [14]

As established in the previous sections, plastic plays an important role within the

health-care sphere. The benefits of plastics are apparent in medicine and public health

due to their versatility, cost-effectiveness, and minimal energy required to produce,

compared to metals and glass. Due to this, polymers are used in various health

applications, such as disposable syringes and intravenous bags, sterile packaging for

medical instruments as well as joint replacements, tissue engineering, etc.

Currently in the market, alternative products, often biodegradable, are costly to

produce and can be a source of criticism due to their differing waste disposal procedures

and slow decomposition times. One major challenge is to find a plastic alternative that

would degrade swiftly without releasing harmful toxins into the environment and that

would serve as a safe alternative.

Recently, significant progress has been made in the development of biodegradable

materials with similar functionality to that of oil-based polymers, commonly used in

packaging applications. The expansion into these biodegradable materials has potential

benefits for greenhouse gas balances and other environmental impacts over whole life

cycles. It is intended that use of biodegradable materials will contribute to sustainability

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and reduction in the environmental impact associated with disposal of petroleum-based

polymers. Our research seeks to achieve this and beyond. Imagine a biodegradable

plastic that would begin decomposition when introduced to a certain environment, like

water or air.

The global biodegradable plastic market was valued at $4.65 billion in 2019 and is

expected to reach a market value of $12.06 billion by 2025. [15] Based on type, the starch

blend segment accounted for two-fifths of the global biodegradable market share in 2018

and is expected to dominate the market through 2026. On the other hand, the segment

for polylactic acid plastic (PLA), made from renewable resources, is projected to grow

22.0% YOY annually from 2019 to 2026. [16] The market is driven by the rising income in

emerging economies, high growth in the agriculture and horticulture, packaging and bags,

and the textile industries. As regulations and prohibitions against plastic items (see

Appendix B) are increasing worldwide, the market for biodegradable plastics continues to

grow.

Biodegradable Supply & Demand

The production of biodegradable plastics is currently very low: estimated at around 4

million tons per year, which accounts to just over 1 percent of global plastics production. [17]

According to the report, Biodegradable Plastic Market, from Markets and Markets, the

Asia Pacific region is expected to be the fastest growing market for biodegradable plastics

with China and India among the fastest growing economies in the world. [18]

Companies such as NatureWorks (US), BASF (Germany), Total Corbion PLA

(Netherlands), Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation (Japan), and Biome Bioplastics (UK) are

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the major players in the global biodegradable plastics market. These companies are

hoping to strengthen their market position through increased research and design and

technological advancements. They represent the global organizations leading the

biodegradable plastics market overall.

According to the WHO, of the total amount of waste generated by health-care

activities, about “…85% is general, non-hazardous waste while the remaining 15% is

considered hazardous material that may be infectious.” [7] Demand for disposable plastic

products, driven by the concern of viral transmission, is skyrocketing due to the global

pandemic starting in 2019. The capacity to safely deal with these materials after use,

however, remains low for many reasons that are beyond the scope of this report.

Biodegradable Market Trajectory

Today, the field of biodegradable materials and devices attract scientists and

healthcare professionals in surgery, pharmacology, and regenerative medicine. However,

the number of devices of systems that have been successfully developed for clinical and

commercial uses is in its infancy. The biodegradable medical plastics market is expected

to grow by $197.42 million during 2019-2023, according to Technavio. [19]

The North American region led the biodegradable medical plastics market in 2018

with the US as the primary contributor to its growth. As is evident in Figure 5, Markets

and Markets forecasts the market size is projected to grow from $22.8 billion in 2019 to

$31.7 billion by 2024, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.8%. [20] Global

Biodegradable Medical Plastics Market 2019-2023 forecasts a more favorable CAGR for

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the global biodegradable medical plastics market with an expected CAGR of more than

11% from 2019-2023. [21]

The use of these medical products in procedural applications and general checkups

is increasing. The medical disposables segment is projected to register the highest CAGR

between 2019 and 2024. In addition, the use of these disposables as instructed by various

agencies, such as USFDA and Europe FDA are propelling the demand for medical

plastics globally.

Figure 3: Projected medical plastics market by region (marketsandmarkets.com)

Increased incidences of chronic diseases, a changing lifestyle of the middle-income

group, rising demand for better healthcare, and increase in the aging population are the

major drivers for the market. Even post-pandemic, it is anticipated that the medical

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industry will continue to require protective face masks, gowns, and gloves on a regular

basis, therefore driving PPE market outlook. [22]

For example, the protective face masks market exceeded $1 billion in 2019 and is

estimated to grow at a CAGR of over 10.1% between 2020 and 2026. [23] N95 respirators

accounted for a market value of $ 321.3 million in 2019. N95 respirators are preferred by

medical personnel for their protection from 95% of substances larger than 0.03 microns.

The proven efficacy of these respirators in preventing the spread of the virus has boosted

their demand.

Figure 4: Global Protective Face Masks Market (gminsights.com)

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Our Biodegradable Research

As stated in the executive summary, Dr. David Son and Dr. Paul Krueger collaborate

to work on a project with a joint chemical and engineering approach to biodegradable

plastics for broader impact.

Both labs perform research on key topics that include modeling the material

properties, experimentally characterizing the properties for degradability, and

investigating ways to optimize the chemical formulation to preserve degradability while

achieving desirable mechanical properties. By combining the knowledge of bioresorbable

polymers and novel biopolymers, the product will stand out with unique mechanical

properties, improved total degradation time, and minimal toxicity released back into the

environment.

Dr. David Son Lab

From a chemical point of view, researchers could take several approaches. They can

develop additives for conventional mass-produced polymers that initiate degradation on

exposure to certain stimuli such as light, heat, or moisture. Another approach would be

to utilize bio-based plastics and chemically modify them to impart certain desirable

properties to the material. In the third and most desirable approach, researchers can

design plastics from the molecular level to give predictable properties to the final plastic

material.

Previously, the Center for Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery (CD4) on the SMU

campus developed possibilities of in vivo types of applications, such as a temporary

structural feature or as a scaffold for tissue growth. The Son Lab within the CD4 has been

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experimenting with combining thiols and alkenes to create biopolymers that undergo

degradation in physiological conditions and can be precisely controlled over

the degradation response time. With the ability to control the polymer during the time

course, the mechanical properties can be compared in selected systems.

Recently, the lab also demonstrated the creation of a new plastic that degrades on

contact to moisture. The plastic is prepared from custom-made compounds and cures at

moderate temperatures without the need for catalysts or other additives. Initially, this lab

research found that the degradation profile of the plastic could be controlled by simple

molecular modifications of the starting compounds.

A large issue that today’s society faces is managing waste as a result of globalization.

Particularly, a key challenge of biodegradable plastics is their need for particular waste

management plans, which are not always widely available. This does not mean such

methods are infeasible, but there could be an additional cost especially if they are in the

waste stream at low concentrations, implying significant work in terms of infrastructure

redesign.

Not all bio-based polymers are deemed biodegradable and failing to manage their

disposal would result in uncontrolled biodegradation, adding to existing plastic pollution.

In contrast to the byproducts of many bio-based plastics in the market, the Son Lab has

studied cell toxicity to indicate the degradation byproducts of their new material to be

relatively harmless. With these results, the Son Lab can tailor the degradation properties

of the plastic through molecular modification of the starting materials. The modifications

can also enhance the mechanical properties of the material.

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The Dr. Paul Krueger Lab

Alternatively, the Krueger lab team works with 3D printing partners to address various

mechanical properties important for utilizing the materials in numerous applications.

Important properties include tensile properties (stiffness and maximum elongation at

break) and thermal properties (coefficient of thermal conductivity and expansion).

Adhesive properties will also be analyzed to understand how well materials may be

processed to achieve the desired shape.

A versatile material would not only be degradable to help minimize waste, but would

also have properties that allow it to be broadly adopted in order to displace other less

desirable materials. Compatibility with 3D printing methods would facilitate this given its

rapidly growing adoption and application for manufacturing both prototype and production

components. The lab is continuing to develop a 3D printing technology (extrude and cure

additive manufacturing, or ECAM) that can simultaneously print and cure thermoset

polymers such as those considered in this project. Thermosets are more challenging to

work with because, unlike thermoplastics that can be remelted, thermosets retain their

shape once cured.

Several players occupy the market share: Arkema Group and BASF SE have

intensified their competition, and Corbion NV, Evonik Industries AG, and Koninklijke DSM

NV are other major companies. [24] The increasing preference for sustainable products and

the aging population will provide significant growth for biodegradable medical plastics

manufacturers.

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Progress Summary - Fall 2020

Researchers Anderson Wey and Jamie Hall optimized the synthesis of the two

monomers required for the synthesis of the prototype degradable plastic. Anderson’s

monomer is a furan-based trisubstituted silyl ether, and Jamie’s monomer is a maleimidebased

disubstituted silyl ether. The silyl ether component is key to the degradable

properties as it will cleave on prolonged exposure to moisture. By the end of the summer

of 2020, both Anderson and Jamie had achieved syntheses of their monomers in

laboratory-scale quantities (10–20 grams each). See Figure 5 for an example of a

laboratory synthesis setup.

Figure 5: Experimental setup for monomer synthesis

Initial network preparations were carried out using a circular aluminum mold provided

by Dr. Krueger’s laboratory in mechanical engineering and designed by the

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undergraduate researcher, Sami Streb, working in Dr. Krueger’s lab.

Networks

were prepared by mixing Anderson’s and Jamie’s monomers in the mold and heating at

80°C for two hours. Network preparation was successful; however, the cured plastics

adhered too strongly to the mold and had to be peeled out, resulting in deformation of the

plastic (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Circular mold (left) and plastic (right)

Sami prepared a mold out of silicone, which proved to release the plastic much

easier. We recently prepared a “dog bone” shaped sample for mechanical testing in the

Krueger lab (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Dog bone-shaped plastic in a silicone mold

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Further attention to degradation measurements will be needed as of the writing of this

report. Researchers observed that the plastics did degrade on prolonged exposure to

ambient conditions (Figure 8).

Figure 8: (Right) freshly prepared plastic; (Left) plastic after exposure to room environment for several weeks

Using the dog-bone sample shown in Figure 7, Sami performed a tensile test of the

sample using an Instron tensile testing machine available in the mechanical engineering

department. The stress strain curve obtained from this test is shown in Figure 9. The

sample was tested to failure and showed an ultimate stress of 7.35 MPa and an ultimate

strain of 1.21%.

These values are low compared to typical polymers, which may reflect a more brittle

behavior for this material. The material also shows an extended region of plastic

deformation (strain with very little change in stress) followed by another region of elastic

behavior. Additional testing will be needed to confirm the consistency of these results.

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Figure 9: Tensile test results for dog-bone test sample

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Recommendations

This analysis finds that there is a significant market available for biodegradable

plastics industry, especially those with specifically-manipulated degradation

characteristics, towards alleviating plastic waste. Demand exists in the medical industry,

especially when dealing with single-use waste management.

One potential future application could be its use in combination with 3-D printing

specifically designed for use with the unique properties of the prototype plastic. Because

of its biodegradable nature, the prototype plastic will also greatly reduce end-of-life

waste. These characteristics are significant advances to the biodegradable

plastics currently leading the market. With the ability to manipulate the plastic’s

properties, they can impart certain desirable characteristics of the material and give the

final product more predictable degradation properties.

Future studies that include use of the degradable polymer material in combination

with 3-D printing and ECAM capabilities have market potential for innovation in a broad

range of applications to support a cleaner environment. Focusing on both producing

better-quality medical supplies and reducing the end-of-life waste associated with such

products could be extremely valuable impact on the social, economic, and environmental

aspects of medical plastic waste.

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Appendix A

Covid-19 Specific Findings

Months into the pandemic, the US faces a shortage of PPE as the number of cases

increases (see Figure 10) and more people are admitted into health care facilities. [25] The

dearth of supplies is affecting a broad array of health facilities, and the supply cannot

keep up with the demand. Many hospitals, nursing homes, and private medical practices

are facing a shortage of respirator masks, isolation gowns, and disposable gloves that

protect front-line medical workers from infection.

Figure 10: Number of cases reported each day in the U.S. since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak (cdc.gov)

Doctors at the Memorial City Medical Center in Houston who directly treat COVID-19

patients have been urged to reuse single-use N95 respirator masks for up to 15

days before throwing them out. National Nurses United (NNU), the country’s largest

organization of registered nurses found in a survey of its members in late June that 87%

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of nurses had been forced to reuse disposable N95 masks while treating infected

patients. [26] In Florida, some hospitals are handing out only loose-fitting surgical masks to

workers treating newly admitted patients who may be asymptomatic carriers.

At GetUsPPE, a volunteer organization that helps health care facilities and workers

find protective gear, demand has been rising sharply in states experiencing a surge of

infections. In June, the amount of PPE requested from medical providers in Iowa jumped

440 percent from the previous month, along with more than 200 percent increases in

Texas and Louisiana. [27]

According to Johns Hopkins University as of August 2020, the number of confirmed

coronavirus cases worldwide is inching towards 15 million with more than 500,000

deaths. [28] The situation is worsening, as the number of cases among frontline healthcare

workers is also steadily rising. The International Council of Nurses (ICN) estimates

that around 90,000 health workers have been infected by the coronavirus, and over 260

nurses have died because of the pandemic. [29] This crisis, therefore, has heightened the

need for PPE such as gowns, face masks, and goggles. The World Health Organization

responded by urging governments and manufacturers in February 2020 to ramp up their

PPE production by 40%. As the spread of COVID-19 intensifies, the demand for PPE is

likely to remain sky-high for the remainder of the pandemic.

The fear of equipment shortages comes as other issues that plagued the country’s

early response to the pandemic return: surging cases, overwhelmed hospitals, lagging

testing, and contradictory public health messages. The inability to secure PPE is

especially frustrating, health-care workers say, because it is their main defense against

catching the virus.

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In 2020, nurses posted online testimonials about a lack of PPE, with some given

surgical masks instead of N95 masks because of shortages. [30] Hospital executives in

Houston — where case numbers continue to break records — have said they have

enough PPE for now but expressed worries of running out if cases continue to spike.

Demand for protective equipment has soared, but unlike in March, when efforts focused

on getting PPE for major hospitals — especially in New York, Detroit and Chicago —

supplies now are desperately needed in primary care offices, nursing homes, prisons and

psychiatric and disability facilities. As many states continue to reopen their economies,

demand has also surged from the construction industry and other sectors. As a result,

prices have skyrocketed.

Some hospitals say much of the PPE they have acquired has been exorbitantly

priced. At a legislative hearing, a hospital association executive detailed how one

Maryland hospital that spent $600,000 on PPE last year expects to spend $10 million this

year. The struggles have been especially acute for small, rural providers, who can’t

compete with bigger health systems’ bigger budgets and larger-scale orders, experts

say. [30]

Outside the medical sphere in homes, offices, schools, and industry to help reduce

the spread of the virus, social distancing rules were introduced with an increase in hand

sanitizer and disposable polyethylene (PE) gloves use. Considering those who are

recovering at home or are asymptomatic, people are generating plenty of infected trash.

For those working in the sanitation industry, it poses a worry as the virus can persist up

to a day on cardboard, but up to 72 hours on plastic. [31] Additionally, massive amounts of

PPE like masks and gloves clog sidewalk drains and are washing into waterways. [32]

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Figure 11: PPE found on beaches and in oceans. (OceansAsia.org, Naomi Brannan)

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Appendix B

Plastic Bags and Single-use Plastic Items

With the growing laws and regulations regarding plastic bags and other single-use

plastic items, various government and federal agencies have been promoting

biodegradable plastics to reduce plastic waste, which boosts the demand of this market.

As of July 2018, 127 out of 192 countries (about 66%) have adopted some form of

legislation to regulate plastic bags. [33] Various fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG)

companies, such as PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Procter & Gamble, have been required to

adopt biodegradable packaging to comply with the standards, which, as a result, has

propelled the growth of this market. While a number of countries have sought to regulate

marine pollution by banning plastic bags, the bans do not cover the life-cycle of existing

plastic bags -- manufacturing, production, use, distribution, and trade.

In North America, the trend in the U.S. and Canada is towards regulating plastic bags

through sub-national legislation and collaborations between public and private sectors,

with states and cities (as well as major retailers) at the forefront of reducing plastic bag

usage and waste. In the U.S., only California, New York, and Hawaii have

statewide bans on non-biodegradable plastic bags. Six cities have plastic bag bans:

Austin, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. Ten states have

outlawed plastic bag bans: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Idaho, Minnesota,

Mississippi, Missouri, Indiana, and Iowa.

The result of bans on plastic bags, specifically in California, have led to an estimated

reduction of 40 million pounds of plastic trash per year. [34] With the reduction of plastic use,

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consumers are more likely to seek out alternatives that will minimize negative

environmental impact when disposed of, whether in the form of reusable or biodegradable

materials. Imagine the effects on global plastic waste if quality alternatives at an

affordable price were available in all areas of plastic production and use.

Ocean Conservancy scientists worry that if the temporary rollbacks to plastic bans

become permanent, it would undermine efforts to reduce single-use plastics and increase

ocean plastic pollution going forward. [35]

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