Bioconversion Process of Polyethylene from Waste Tetra Pak® Packaging to Polyhydroxyalkanoates

Polymers (Basel). 2022 Jul 12;14(14):2840. doi: 10.3390/polym14142840.


Presented herein are the results of a novel recycling method for waste Tetra Pak® packaging materials. The polyethylene (PE-T) component of this packaging material, obtained via a separation process using a "solvents method", was used as a carbon source for the biosynthesis of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) by the bacterial strain Cupriavidus necator H16. Bacteria were grown for 48-72 h, at 30 °C, in TSB (nitrogen-rich) or BSM (nitrogen-limited) media supplemented with PE-T. Growth was monitored by viable counting. It was demonstrated that C. necator utilised PE-T in both growth media, but was only able to accumulate 40% w/w PHA in TSB supplemented with PE-T. Only 1.5% w/w PHA was accumulated in the TSB control, and no PHA was detected in the BSM control. Extracted biopolymers were characterised by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, electrospray tandem mass spectrometry (ESI-MS/MS), gel permeation chromatography (GPC), and accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS). The characterisation of PHA by ESI-MS/MS revealed that PHA produced by C. necator in TSB supplemented with PE-T contained 3-hydroxybutyrate, 3-hydroxyvalerate, and 3-hydroxyhexanoate co-monomeric units. AMS analysis also confirmed the presence of 96.73% modern carbon and 3.27% old carbon in PHA derived from Tetra Pak®. Thus, this study demonstrates the feasibility of our proposed recycling method for waste Tetra Pak® packaging materials, alongside its potential for producing value-added PHA, and the ability of 14C analysis in validating this bioconversion process.

Keywords: C14 analysis; Cupriavidus necator; Tetra Pak®; bioconversion; bioplastics; polyethylene; polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA); recycling; sustainability.