UBC researcher creates wood-based alternative to single-use plastic

UBC researcher Dr. Feng Jiang has developed a cellulose film that looks like plastic and behaves like plastic-but is biodegradable.

How it’s made

Dr. Jiang’s process breaks down wood fibres (sourced from forest waste) in a solution of cold sodium hydroxide combined with mild mechanical blending. The sodium hydroxide is then recycled. The result is a translucent, strong and water-resistant film.

Other researchers have also developed cellulosic films but the UBC project-funded by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development-is the first to use small amounts of energy and chemicals in the manufacture.

Dr. Jiang's process breaks down wood fibres (sourced from forest waste) in a solution of cold sodium hydroxide combined with mild mechanical blending

Dr. Jiang’s process breaks down wood fibres (sourced from forest waste) in a solution of cold sodium hydroxide combined with mild mechanical blending.

What it’s good for

Like conventional plastic, the film can be made into coffee bags or chip bags, pouches like pouches for cereal or frozen fruit, or protective wrap like bubble wrap or envelopes.

The difference is that at the end of its life cycle, the cellulose film can be buried in the ground or an organics bin, where it will break down within three weeks.

Why it matters

With certain plastics taking up to a million years to decompose, single-use plastic is a massive source of pollution and it also uses significant amounts of toxic chemicals during manufacture. Dr. Jiang and his team hope to bring their film to market within a few years to offer an alternative that is environmentally friendly and marks a new use for forest byproducts.

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