DARWIN participates in the new project ENTOMOPLAST: Insect microbiomes as a tool for the recycling plastic waste from multilayer packaging

Darwin Bioprospecting is one of the partners that will carry out,  with the University of Valencia and AIMPLAS, the ENTOMOPLAST project: “Insect microbiomes as a tool for the recycling of plastic waste from multilayer packaging”. This project will be carried out thanks to the funding received by the Generalitat Valenciana, the Valencian Agency for Innovation (AVI) and the ERDF Funds.

Plastics are essential materials for the manufacture of all types of packaging, whether commercial or for industrial use. Multilayer structures, in particular, are used to package food because they save costs by adding additional layers. In addition, they provide specific properties that make it an ideal material for preserving food and maintaining its organoleptic qualities: sealing, structural and thermal stability, possibility of printing and impermeability.

However, multilayer plastic containers cause great environmental concern. In 2018, 17.8 million tons of plastic packaging waste were generated in Europe, in which only 42% were recycled. A large part of the untreated waste was multilayer packaging. The reason why these materials are not recycled is mainly due to the difficulty of separating the layers that compose it. The separation of the layers requires new technologies and processes that make recycling more expensive, making it impractical at a technical-economic level. In addition, there is a current low demand for recycled plastics.

The new European circular economy model establishes the need to increase plastic recycling rates and create viable markets that facilitate the process. Thus, the ENTOMOPLAST project is aligned with the strategy of the circular economy of plastic, since its main objective is to investigate the microbiome of insects with a high potential to degrade plastics, thus favoring the treatment of this waste to increase its rate of recycled profitably. It is also expected to obtain recycled materials of biological origin with high added value.

The project is structured in 4 work blocks:

– Investigation of pre-treatment processes of the chosen waste in order to have a high oxidation state of the materials that favors the subsequent processes of biodegradation.

– The creation of collections of microbial strains, from the intestinal microbiota of various insects, with degrading activity.

– The elaboration of a process of biological degradation of the waste with different insects. The potential of insects to be used as a source of polymers of biological origin will also be evaluated.

– Obtaining bioproducts of interest to the plastics industry.

The degrading action of plastics by insects may be surprising, but recently the degradation of recalcitrant plastics by insects such as Galleria mellonella has been described. It also highlights the degrading activity of other species of Lepidoptera, such as Achroia grisella. Some coleopterans, such as Tenebrio spp. and Zophobas spp. They have also been recognized for their ability to ingest different plastic materials. These are some of the organisms that will be studied in this project.

It should be noted that this project will represent the leadership of the Valencian Community, as a pioneer in providing viable solutions from a technological and economic point of view to a global environmental problem. In addition, technologies will be investigated that, apart from solving the problem, could be implemented in niches such as bioremediation or recycling. Finally, this project also opens up the possibility of commercializing new products, such as microbial strains or enzymes with degrading capacity of different types of plastic.

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