Paper or (Biodegradable) Plastic? It can take a plastic bottle between 500 and 1,000 years to biodegrade. A professor at the University of Florida (UF) is trying to bring that number down to 10 with research that could have a tremendous impact on our fragile environment. Dr. Stephen Miller, UF associate professor of chemistry, is developing technology that would use the byproduct of processed sugar cane in creating a new plastic that degrades in 10 years in the presence of water. The technology has become the focus of his newly formed company, U.S. Bioplastics, where he serves as CTO, alongside CEO Lee Strait. To further develop the plastic for commercialization, they teamed up with The Corridor on a Matching Grants Research Program (MGRP) project. “Today’s plastic was not designed for one-time use when it was created more than 100 years ago,” Strait said. “The height of the industrial revolution called for cheap items that will last. And they do. Plastics last for generations.” The need for water being present in order for a rapid breakdown using the new technology is important as many used plastics ind a home in the world’s oceans, forming giant trash regions (some the size of Texas or bigger) that get stuck in ocean currents. These loating landills endanger marine life as ish, turtles, seals, birds and others ingest the plastic or are trapped by plastic pieces. Several patents have been issued and some are pending for the new plastic coined Gatoresin. Miller worked with a postdoctoral student at UF to collect the sugar cane waste and extract data for the project. Corridor funding helped buy a new reactor and scaled up the operation. Gatoresin is not only environmentally friendly, but also a product that breaks a dependency on oil for the production of plastic. It can be created from corn leaves and stalks, plus sugar beet pulp, utilizing the byproducts of food that mostly go to waste. An alternative plastic currently exists; however, it is derived from 34 florida.HIGH.TECH 2016 corn starch, sugar cane and other potential food sources, not their byproducts. The continued use of this alternative could deplete food supplies and has limitations on the temperature of contents it can carry. Coffee cups of this material are out of the question. Gatoresin is a solution to both issues. “Historically, the plastics industry has been seen as dirty,” said Miller. “I want to reverse that. I think someone will pull this off and I hope we are the ones.” The challenge is creating Gatoresin at a low cost, but Miller is excited for the opportunity to create a positive impact on the environment that could last generations.