Organic waste: the key to a sustainable future?

The Challenge

Plastic pollution is one of the biggest environmental problems we face today. Each year, around 8 million tons of plastic waste are dumped into the sea and oceans, causing serious harm to marine life and ecosystems. Plastic takes centuries to degrade, and recycling rates are poor, which means most of it ends up in landfills and oceans. The European Union has launched an ambitious plan to eliminate single-use plastics by 2030, but the challenge is enormous, given the widespread and deeply embedded use of plastic in our daily lives.

At the same time, the tonnage of food waste produced annually poses another significant risk to the environment. According to the UN, 1.2 billion tons of food is wasted or lost every year. This is a staggering third of all the food produced around the world.

The solution

However, thanks to biotechnology, organic waste can be turned into bioplastic, which offers a solution to two serious environmental and social problems: removing organic waste and producing greener plastics. The process can be done at a fraction of the cost of producing traditional plastics, making it a more sustainable alternative. Moreover, bioplastics biodegrade in the environment in 6-9 months, and they have the same properties as common plastics like polyethylene, meaning they can be mass-produced and used as an alternative to traditional plastic.

The fermentation process

To turn organic waste into bioplastic through a biotechnological process, scientists use bacteria, which are naturally able to create an energy reserve compound that forms polymers similar to everyday plastics. The production process involves culturing large quantities of bacteria in a bioreactor. The bacteria use their metabolic pathways to produce the building blocks of bioplastics, such as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). PHAs are synthesized from the carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins that appear in the bacteria. The process of turning bacteria into polyethylene and polypropylene starts with feeding the bacteria small amounts of food, so they remain starved. During this period, only the bacteria capable of creating PHA survive. These bacteria are then continuously fed larger amounts of food, allowing them to grow and fatten while creating higher quantities of PHA. After harvesting the bacteria, the PHAs are extracted using solvents and further processed to create different types of bioplastics with varying properties.

The bacteria commonly used in the production of bioplastics include the genus Alcaligenes, Azotobacter, Bacillus, Cupriavidus, Pseudomonas, and Rhodobacter. Some of these can be found naturally in the environment, while others are genetically modified to produce large quantities of PHAs.


In conclusion, using bacteria to produce bioplastics has the potential to provide a more sustainable alternative to conventional plastics, which are made from fossil fuel sources and are not biodegradable. By transforming organic waste into bioplastics, we can address two of the most pressing environmental problems of our time: plastic pollution and waste management. It is high priority and mandatory to regenerate plastic using organic waste, and it is time to embrace this innovative solution for a greener and more sustainable future.


Photo credit: Freepik