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The Grass side of Life

Names of Researchers University of the Witwatersrand

Most people are increasingly adopting a greener lifestyle. We all seem to overlook polystyrene which is an ever present even in green products due to its endless functionality. Namely: packaging, disposable utensils and insulation. Its inherent difficulty in recycling and inability to biodegrade causes substantial problems. Problem Polymers account for 30% by volume of landfills Polystyrene is derived from highly polluting fossil fuel sources such as petroleum Animals can ingest it and choke as this substance can easily mimic food. Sea life in danger due to low density of material which enables it to float. In order to tackle this problem, we explore the possibility of replacing polystyrene with a biodegradable polymer made from switchgrass.

Pollution and Society

LCA of PHB/Lignin
Genetic Engineering of PHB
PHB and lignin, the basis of the polymer are extracted from switchgrass after genetic engineering. Specialized chemicals for genetic engineering are consumed. The PHB is formed as granules within the grass negating the need for bioreactors.


The PHB is mixed with Lignin at temperatures which will avoid the degradation of PHB. The plastics are then extruded and pelletized. This mixing will require energy in the form of electricity for the heaters. Gasses like CO2, N2O and SO2 are produced.

The moulded plastic will be sent out to different outlets after their formation. Carbon dioxide and other air pollutants are an indirect consequence along with fossil fuel consumption.

LCA of Polystyrene
Raw Materials
Polystyrene is derived from petroleum and hence we to account for Air pollution in manufacturing prneed ocess Land degradation from mining activities Energy usage in extensive process ng of oil products

Usage and Maintenance

No real direct environmental concerns from general usage It is used like any other polymer. The materials of production yield no pollution or cause a health risk to humans or animals.

Polystyrene is manufactured from a styrene monomer, and accounts for very little process water. Most water due to cooling than actual manufacturing of product High energy requirements due to hot steam used to form the polystyrene and regulate temperatures during production


The material is compostable and degrades quickly since it is a bioplastic. Recycling will contaminate Petroleum plastics.

All products require vast transportation, considering they are either used as consumer goods or packaging materials. Carbon dioxide and other air pollutants are an indirect consequence

Advantages and Disadvantages

Usage and Maintenance

No real direct environmental concerns from general usage and no energy required due to the product functionality Styrene or benzene (which are toxic) could contaminate food sources if polystyrene food packaging is heated in microwave


Polymers accounts for 30% by volume of landfills Due to density and nonbiodegradable nature, polystyrene can float of water and damage wildlife if not appropriately disposed of

Polystyrene can only be recycled if not contaminated with oils or other chemicals The process of recycling would lead back to manufacturing and since there is no economic incentive, very little recycling of product occurs

Funding Source: First Person Second Contributor