Bacteria could turn your table waste into bioplastics

Excerpt: One Canadian small business is using clean technology to turn carbon-packed food waste into biodegradable plastic.

Soon your table scraps could turn from trash to plastic bottles, medical equipment or 3D-printing filament. One Canadian small business is using clean technology to turn carbon-packed food waste into biodegradable plastic. Founded in 2016, Genecis Bioindustries Inc. is a biotechnology company that uses “recipes of bacteria” to turn food waste into polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), a high-quality bioplastic.

Manufacturers can use bioplastic – which includes bio-based and biodegradable plastic – to create everything from sustainable single-use foodware and packaging to 3D-printing filaments, the moldable plastic needed for the printing process.

“We program bacteria to convert low-value waste into high-value materials,” said CEO and founder Luna Yu, a recent graduate of the University of Toronto Scarborough in the Master of Environmental Science program. Genecis hopes to cash in on emerging markets and a global shift toward a greener economy. Two years ago, Ms. Yu and her team collected micro-organisms from around the world, including Guatemala and Costa Rica, to isolate 200 new bacteria species that don’t exist in other databases.

The bacteria create PHA through a two-step process. First, bacteria break down food waste into small carbon building blocks. Afterward, PHA-assembling bacteria eat the carbon and store bioplastic granules in their cells before it’s chemically extracted.

“Our business model is to work directly with waste-management companies,” Ms. Yu said. “From Day One, we had to have super robust bacteria.”

Genecis is one of few PHA-bioplastic companies using pre- and post-consumer food waste. In Canada, other PHA manufacturers, such as TerraVerdae BioWorks and PolyFerm Canada, use feedstocks like methanol, sugar and oil. By using food waste, Genecis can reduce the production cost of its PHA pellets by 40 per cent compared with other manufacturers.

Bacteria create PHA through a two-step process. First, bacteria break down food waste into small carbon building blocks. Afterward, PHA-assembling bacteria eat the carbon and store bioplastic granules in their cells before it’s chemically extracted.

And investors are interested. To date, Genecis has raised approximately $870,000 – $280,000 during its first round of seed funding and $590,000 from grants and pitch competitions. The company plans to scale up its production line at the University of Toronto’s Banting and Best Centre by December to process 300 kilograms of food waste per week, up from 80.

From there, the company will also raise a second round of seed funding to fund the construction of a demonstration plant next year, upping its capacity. The goal is to prove Genecis’s technology on an industrial scale, Ms. Yu said.