School of forestry and environmental studies

School Notes: School of the Environment
July/August 2021

Ingrid C. “Indy” Burke |

Turning wood into plastic

Researchers have made a breakthrough, using wood byproducts, that shows promise for producing more durable and sustainable bioplastics. A study published in Nature Sustainability, coauthored by Yuan Yao, assistant professor of industrial ecology and sustainable systems at Yale School of the Environment, outlines the process of deconstructing the porous matrix of natural wood into a slurry. The researchers say the resulting material shows a high mechanical strength, stability when holding liquids, and UV-light resistance. It can also be recycled or safely biodegraded in the natural environment, and has a lower life-cycle environmental impact when compared with petroleum-based plastics and other biodegradable plastics. “There are many people who have tried to develop these kinds of polymers in plastic, but the mechanical strands are not good enough to replace the plastics we currently use, which are made mostly from fossil fuels,” says Yao. “We’ve developed a straightforward and simple manufacturing process that generates biomass-based plastics from wood, but also plastic that delivers good mechanical properties as well.”

A ‘New Horizon’ for environmental justice

In April, Yale School of the Environment for the first time hosted the New Horizons in Conservation Conference, an annual gathering of emerging environmental leaders who are historically underrepresented in the environmental field and/or committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field. The conference, organized by Yale’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Sustainability Initiative, drew nearly 900 attendees and provided an opportunity to network, attend workshops, and learn from leaders in the environmental field. “This is a space that provides an opportunity, for once, to be in the majority when talking about conservation,” said Dorceta Taylor ’85MFS, ’91PhD, who founded the conference as a faculty member at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability.

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