Technology Research

Earth friendly plastics

NIU researcher Robert Tatara is working on ways to ensure that the plastics that serve us so well today aren’t a headache for generations in the future.

Working on a grant from the USDA, Tatara is experimenting with using dried distiller grain (a waste product left over from the making of ethanol, alcohol and other products) as a filler in plastics.

The agricultural waste product has many advantages over the fillers that are currently used:

  • It is less expensive
  • It reduces the amount of petroleum based resins used in plastic products
  • It reduces the amount of plastic to be disposed of at the end of the product’s useful life.

Tatara is also experimenting with using the biodegradable filler in combination with corn-starch based resins, which result in a truly biodegradable plastic. To demonstrate its feasibility he and a student have created and marketed a biodegradable golf tee.

Plastic made with the grain waste is less costly than current biodegradable resins and it reduces the amount of resin manufactured from petroleum in plastic products. That means less petroleum used to make plastic, and less plastic to dispose of at the end of the product’s useful life. Overall, this work impacts sustainability on a global level by minimizing the environmental impact of plastic products while lowering costs and conserving non-renewable resources.