April 7 (UPI) -- Japanese scientists say they have developed plastic that can disintegrate at sea within 30 days.
The Asahi Shimbun reported the plastic contains cassava, a raw material used to make tapioca, and cellulose found in wood pulp, originating from tropical climates.
The new material is the result of collaboration between an Osaka University-led engineering team and Japan Food Research Laboratories, according to the report.
The plant material is not expensive to make, scientists say. The starch and cellulose were dissolved in water, rolled out into a thin layer, and then turned into a transparent sheet after applying heat.
"We would first like to use it as food packaging materials, which are very familiar to people and are often contained in the waste in the sea," said Hiroshi Uyama, a professor of engineering at Osaka University. "I hope that this will be a part of the solution to the issue and raise the interest of people."
Japanese scientists also said the sheet, which measures about 100 micrometers in thickness, has twice the strength of plastics composed of polyethylene.
Marine microorganisms are key to decomposing the new plastic. When placed in seawater filled with microorganisms, the sheet had been torn apart in 30 days; the sheet was not destroyed in water with fewer microorganisms, however.
Regular plastic bags take about 20 years to decompose after being discarded into the ocean, and plastic bottles take as much as 450 years. About 8 million tons of plastic waste is thrown into the sea annually. The World Economic Forum has said micro-plastics would outweigh fish in oceans across the globe by 2050.
Japan is the second-biggest emitter of plastic waste per capita after the United States, according to The Guardian.
The country used to send 1.5 million tons of plastic waste to China annually, until Beijing banned waste imports in 2017.