Plastic pollution is at a crisis. Not only is it wreaking havoc on the world’s oceans, but it’s also creating a public health dilemma that we’re only just beginning to grapple with. Now, more than ever, it’s vital that we find alternatives to plastic, for the sake of the entire planet.
Interestingly enough, that alternative could be a material we’ve been using for thousands of years: paper. In a new study published in the journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research on Friday, researchers from The University of Tokyo created a liquid compound—dubbed Choetsu—that can create a durable, waterproof coating when applied to paper.
“There are materials that can degrade safely, such as paper, but obviously paper cannot fulfill the vast range of uses plastic can,” Zenji Hiroi, professor at the Institute for Solid State Physics at the University of Tokyo and co-author of the study, said in a press release. “However, we’ve found a way to give paper some of the nice properties of plastic, but with none of the detriments. We call it Choetsu, a low-cost biodegradable coating that adds waterproofing and strength to simple paper.”
The substance is made up of low-cost chemicals such as isopropyl alcohol, methyltrimethoxysilane, and tetraisopropyl titanate. When applied to a paper object like a takeout container or an origami crane, it dries at room temperature and creates a thin layer of silica that renders the paper strong and waterproof. The coating also contains a property that makes it dirt- and bacteria-resistant, which could prevent the paper from forming mold.
It’s not permanent. Over time, the coating will break down into what the researchers claim are harmless elements like carbon, water, and grainy silicon. However, the chemical could one day give rise to sprays and coatings that can be used on paper to give them all the utility of plastic without the detrimental impacts on our environment and bodies.
“Alongside researcher Yoko Iwamiya, who has been working in this field for some time now, and the rest of my team, I hope we can do something truly beneficial for the world,” Hiroi said.