Can sperm replace plastic? China’s working on it

Salmon jumping in water

A Chinook salmon leaps through white water in May 17, 2001 (Photo By Bill Schaefer/Getty Images)

(KXAN) — Certain little swimmers could soon help the world use less plastic.

Researchers in China have already successfully made a cup, puzzle pieces and a DNA molecule using a gel formulation containing salmon sperm. French network Euronews’ environmentally-focused reports scientists fused two strands of salmon sperm DNA together using a chemical found in vegetable oil.

This material turns into a “squishing material known as hydrogel,” Euronews says.

The team behind the fishy research is headed by Dayong Yang at Tianjin University. The researchers say their DNA-based plastic alternative produces 97% fewer carbon emissions than ordinary plastics — they can even be made into other products by dipping them in water, causing them to become gel again.

But the recyclability of the gel does present problems, since its composure buckles when wet. Research around this issue is ongoing.

The plastic problem

The plastic industry releases about 232 million tons of greenhouse emissions each year, according to a report by Bennington College and Beyond Plastics detailed by Reuters.

This number is equal to 116 coal power plants, the report says. Gas emissions from plastic are expected to surpass even those of the coal industry by 2030. The Department of Energy expects the U.S. will also be releasing 20 times more ethane from plastic production by 2025.

Additionally, the Pew Charitable Trusts research and policy organization estimates about 11 million metric tons of plastic enter Earth’s oceans each year. And that number is expected to nearly TRIPLE by 2040 unless big actions are taken, according to the group’s peer-reviewed study “Breaking the Plastic Wave.”

“… There are practically no natural processes that can degrade plastic back into the ecosystem,” said Winnie Lau, senior manager of Pew’s ocean plastics program and lead author of the study. “Some people say plastic might break down after a few hundred years — but we don’t know, because we haven’t lived with plastic that long. It will stay with us, maybe forever.”

Ninety-five percent of plastics are used only once, Pew says. And although 71% of plastic created is collected, less than 15% of it actually gets recycled.

For ideas on how to reduce your own and your area’s plastic pollution, visit the Plastic Pollution Coalition.

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