Can Nature’s alternatives to Petro Polymers change the future of sustainability?

The story of the traditional plastic polymer starts in 1907, when Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first true synthetic plastic designed to replace ivory. This new compound was durable, heat resistant and could handle molding into any required shape. Today, Baekeland’s Bakelite is the cornerstone of modern commercialization and civilization. Everything from the clothes we wear, the chairs we sit on, the packaging our food is stored in, to the cars we travel by, have some form of plastic fibers within their structure.  Since 1950, we have produced over 9.1 billion tons of plastic, of which 40 percent is discarded packaging. 

The one problem Leo Baekeland could not foresee while synthesizing ‘the material of a thousand uses’ was how harmful it could be for the earth’s soil and the ocean, and how widespread its consequences could be. Only 9 percent of all produced plastics have ever been recycled and our modern recycling can't keep up with the world’s appetite for plastic. The use of these Petro-polymers such as PP, PE, EPS, PET, PETG, ABS and countless other derivatives with thousands of different melt and mechanical properties simply do not degrade to the point of either being inert or re-absorbed by mother nature, meaning that if they are discarded in our biomes. They keep releasing harmful microplastics long after the purpose it was created for has been served.. 

There is well established evidence on the increasing accumulation of these micro plastics in our food chain. What we haven’t quite grasp, is their cumulative impact on the health of every single living organism on this planet. Including humans.  

But we also must acknowledge that a total ban on all petro-plastics would be impossible to implement. We have built our entire economy around these materials, and billions of dollars have been spent on their manufacturing and applications. So, a progressive and systematic approach to finding better solutions is necessary and accelerated with the help of legislative support.

PHA Bio-polymer to the rescue

Over a 100 years ago, certain naturally accruing bacteria were found to synthesize a form of polymer as a method of storing excess energy. Similarly, as we store excess sugars as body fat, these bacteria would feed on available and selected biomass and internally convert their food into a medium that could be used as resource when food becomes scarce.

The polymer in question is called Polyhydroxyalkanoates, or PHAs for short. These harvested polymers offer a wide range of properties that are slowly being applied to a wide range of applications. There has been incredible progress across the entire method of manufacturing PHAs, as nearly, any and all biomasses can be used. This is from vegetable oils to waste food production, to more advance processes using biogas such as methane and CO2. These last two materials offer incredible benefits to assist with the carbon capture and sequestration but aren’t ready for mass production. So, the most current commercial operations are using renewable non-competing food sources such as sugars and oils. 

In brief, the overall process can be described as using large fermentation vats (silos) to feed selected and genetically enhanced bacteria the perfect food, and in the perfect environment free of predators and competition. The bacteria will convert the excess food, up to 90% of their mass as PHA. The bacteria are then separated and split up to collect tiny PHA polymer particles. These can then be converted into pellets of materials that can be compounded into a finished resin. 

This process of manufacturing is not only much more sustainable than using Petro-Polymers; but also has great benefits when you review the end-of-life cycle. PHA as a raw material is easily re-absorbed within all biomes that are rich in bacterial activities (Soil, Rivers, Lakes, Oceans). Meaning, they do not break down into everlasting microplastics. Hence, they do not contaminate the environment.

However, it is very important to acknowledge that discarding these materials in nature is NOT how we want you to use them. PHA is recyclable, we have completed internal studies that show up to 100% of the material can be recycled and remade into an identical or similar product. However, we know that there isn’t enough PHA being made available to justify the capital to be spent on recycling on a large scale. 

Therefore, the current preferred method of end-of-life for PHA products is composting. And because of its source being a biomass to start with, PHA does not require special composting systems and environment. So, home composting is attainable.

PHA based 3D filament (FDM)

We embraced the 3D printing community as an open-source group of passionate tinkerers, hobbyist, and entrepreneurs. I’ve personally been involved for over 10+ years, from buying my 1st printer, US made Printout, to building my own FDM from scratch, as I wanted a 300cm3 printing envelop that could handle ABS materials 8 years ago. I now have 4 Prusa’s MK3s and 1 Mini working in our labs 24/7.  

We use these machines to accelerate the prototyping process of our formulations and assist in making custom parts for our manufacturing laboratory. The flexibility and speed to testing is an undervalued tool that frankly needs to be part of every technical or engineering company. 

The community for the most part has embraced PLA as a go-to material. PLA is reasonably priced and offers an expanding wide range of options and performance. PLA, while being a “bio-Polymer” and derived from Corn and chemically altered and synthesized, is not biodegradable if discarded in our biomes. It will simply break down into micro plastic and continue to accrue into the environment. Currently, PLA has limited compostability as it requires specific environmental conditions to break down. These conditions are only repeatable in industry conditions (170F and 90% humidity). 

It’s worth acknowledging that there is a significant amount of work and research being done to improve this. There is potential for PLA to become truly compostable in a home environment. However, to our knowledge, current 3D printing PLA filament offerings are not part of that research.

Therefore, we are introducing a PHA filament that is compostable (home & industrial) and will break down in nature without generating harmful everlasting microplastics. It is also worth mentioning the amazing work done by Mr. Ruud Rouleaux, CEO of Helian Polymers (ColorFabb Filament) for being the 1st commercialized PHA filament provider based in EU. His leadership and commitment to doing things better is an inspiration to us all. 

We are not going to change the world with this new material, in the sense that we do not expect everyone to change their material of choice from PLA to PHA overnight. But just like a child throwing back one sea star at a time into the ocean*. 

We plan to slowly convert and address the fundamental and monumental issues that we are all facing. One product at a time. 

Paper bags

This one is quite simple. Paper is organically sourced from wood pulps, trees and other biodegradable organic material. Paper products are also super easy to adapt to, which is why paper based packaging, products and commodities have become so common in the commercial marketplace. However, paper is usually light, making it a good alternative for only light use material. 


As scientists warn of the impending global disaster, it has become the responsibility of every global citizen to lower their carbon footprint. Swapping out traditional plastics in our daily lives with safer materials with equal usability is the way forward, and innovative technologies like PHA can help us with that. It is time to ditch single-use plastic and move towards a more environment friendly, sustainable and organic world.

*The starfish story

By: Loren Eiseley

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed boy picking up and gently throwing things into the ocean.

Approaching the boy he asked, “Young man, what are you doing?”

“Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die,” the boy replied.

The man laughed to himself and said, “Do you realize there are miles of miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make any difference.”

After listening politely, the boy bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the surf. Then, he smiled at the man and said, “I made a difference to that one.”