A multidisciplinary team of Qatar University of Technology researchers put forward an innovative proposal to tackle the global plastic pollution crisis with a combination of plastic DNA-like coding and international law.
Plastic pollution has been identified as an environmental problem similar in scope and complexity to global challenges such as climate change.
The research team at the University of Queensland, from Chemistry and Law, have published their multi-pronged approach in polymer chemistry.
The researchers are Dr. Hope Johnson, Dr. Louis Chambers, Dr. Joshua Holloway, Anastasia Busgas, Professor Afshin Akhtar Khavari, Assistant Professor James Blenko, and ARC Award-winning Fellow Professor Christopher Barner-Kulick, who are part of the Qatar Technology University Center for Materials Science and Center for a Scientist. waste free.
Professor Barner Kowalek said one of the biggest challenges in tackling plastic pollution is tracing contaminated plastic back to the source.
“Tracking plastic solves the anonymity of plastic waste,” said Professor Barner-Kulek.
“If there was a technology that would allow a unique ‘DNA’ to be given to each batch of plastic produced, then the plastic waste could be traced back to the producer, since the information stored in the ‘DNA’ could simply be read.”
Professor Barner Kulick said there are many emerging developments in polymer chemistry that could play a role in defining plastics.
One solution could be chemically labeling batches of plastic production with sequence-specific polymers, which can be decoded in a similar way to DNA, although reading information from sequence-specific polymers at this point is difficult. However, new and simple techniques for reading information from such sequence-specific, plastic-embedded polymers are emerging.
If polymer science can develop means to uniquely identify plastics and trace each piece back to its product, there is still the problem of enforcing liability — and that’s where the legal researchers around Dr. Hope Johnson come in.
“One of the first challenges with an international problem like this is clear jurisdiction, and also where we can best intervene in the regulatory process to bring about sustainable change,” said Professor Afshin Akhtar Khavari.
“One of the big challenges is the implementation in international frameworks so that malicious actors cannot identify the vulnerabilities
“A rigorous, coordinated international approach is essential, yet its establishment requires careful preliminary research into core international governance principles and coordinated approaches subsequent to implementation.”
The researchers describe their paper as “the beginning of a discussion,” not only regarding the potential for using sequence-specific polymers to encode and read the “DNA” embedded in plastics and the associated governance challenges, but also for a broader conversation.
“Research is done with focus, but sometimes there has to be a broader lens,” said Professor Barner Kulick.
“There is an urgent need for the social and natural sciences to work more closely together in the future, breaking down the silo structures that are currently prevalent.”
The combined approach of polymer science and international law investigates the sole consequence of imposing liability on polluters.
The paper says that identifying the people responsible for plastic pollution can lead to a phase-out of plastic.