Researchers in Ontario say they are working on plans to turn food waste, such as potato peels and corn stalks, into plastic and nylon that can be used to create everyday items such as yoga pants.
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The Ontario Genomics’ new wasteCANcreate program looks to use genomics to help divert tons of waste into useful household clothes and items.
The program involves a consortium of businesses spread from Orillia to Burlington to Aylmer in Ontario to others in Vancouver and Regina who are working alongside the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo and Carleton University .
“What we can do with genomics to to tackle our waste problem is, is another great news story,” Ontario Genomics president Dr. Bettina Hamelin told Global News.
Genomics are currently being used across a number of disciplines including across the medical world.
“Genomics is all about the DNA. The DNA is the blueprint of any sort of life, whether that is human life or plant life or animal life,” Hamelin said.
“We have the ability to analyze the DNA and we derive a lot of information from that that we can use, for example, to diagnose disease or to choose the right drug for the right person to make sure that treatments are effective.”
In the case of wasteCANcreate, the project will involve a process called precision fermentation which allows tiny creatures to snack on starchy foods and then poop out tiny particles of plastic waste which could then be used to make larger plastic and nylon products such as water bottles or athletic wear.
“We do that by amplifying a natural process where microbes that are naturally occurring, feed on food waste like potato skins and potatoes and starch, and the microbes have the ability to feed on that food waste and then turn it into components of products like bioplastics or nylons, plastic films, etc.,” Hamelin explained.
“It’s a process that’s called ‘precision fermentation’ and we do this in a controlled environment which allows us to scale up the process and harvest the products we set out to produce.”
If it successfully scales up, she says the food transformation project will have a great impact on the environment.
“On average, every Canadian produces 140 kg of food waste every year, costs us $1300 dollars, and the waste ends up in landfills,” she said. “And what that does, it produces greenhouse gases, and that’s just not good for the environment.
“The opportunity here is really to reduce the waste and reduce greenhouse gases and make the environment better.”
Hamelin says we are in the beginning stages of development to put the wasteCANcreate program into place.
“We have all of these pathways figured out,” she explained. “We’ve gotten engagement from the industry partners and from our university partners and are hard at work to come up with these solutions,” she said.
“But, you know, we realized this was a starting point and it will hopefully bloom from here and we can bring more partners on board and raise more money to do more of that because we desperately need it.”
The head of Ontario Genomics also pointed out that the industry is expected to thrive in the coming years and there will be thousands of job openings in the area.
“Biotechnology is blooming. It’s you know, we actually talk about a bio revolution that is happening out there and that will require a workforce,” she said. “We have put out a report last year that estimates that over the next 5 to 7 years we need at least 85,000 people working in this area.”
Biochemistry, data sciences and engineering were areas of study at universities that she suggested people get into.
“Universities are great grounds to create these interdisciplinary connections and networks,” she explained.
“However, colleges are a really great place as well to get exposed to to biotechnology and we are working closely with a number of colleges in the province to develop programs and micro credentials so that folks can actually get that kind of exposure in the college world as well.”
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