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Elisabeth Van Roijen

University California Davis, PhD
GMI Scholar 2021

Environmental Impacts of Bio-Based Plastics at End-of-Life

Project Description:
The rapid consumption of single-use plastics has led to a number of negative consequences, such as the mismanagement of plastic waste, which has had profound effects on ecosystems and human health. One proposed method for reducing the negative impacts of plastic consumption is to substitute them with bioplastics.

Bioplastics have similar functionalities to petroleum-based plastics, but they can be made from bio-based feedstocks like corn or sugarcane. Bioplastics present an immense opportunity to create pathways for capturing carbon and limiting the ecological burdens of microplastic pollution. However, the total environmental impacts of bioplastics are greatly dependent on how they are disposed, and how they biodegrade in different environments.

Through her research, Van Roijen will model the life cycle impacts of bioplastics through what is called a life cycle assessment (LCA). LCA is a methodology for calculating environmental impacts that take into account the materials, energy requirements, emissions and waste flows associated with each step of the life cycle of a product or service.

Van Roijen will utilize data surrounding the biodegradation behavior of bioplastics in order to more accurately model the impacts of these materials at end-of-life. This research aims to identify process modifications and waste management strategies capable of minimizing the greenhouse gas emissions, human health impacts and ecological burdens of bioplastic consumption.

Elisabeth attended Stony Brook University from 2016-2020 where she graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Chemical and Molecular Engineering as well as a minor in Environmental Engineering. During her time at Stony Brook University, she was on the E-board of multiple environmental clubs on campus and an active member of the local Sierra Club chapter. Her involvement in these groups included organizing trips to public hearings on environmental policies to enable student engagement in local politics. As an undergraduate, Elisabeth also aided in research focused on the use of sustainable materials for water purification systems in developing countries. Elisabeth began pursuing her PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California Davis in the Fall of 2020 and is expected to graduate in spring 2024. Her research efforts at UC Davis include modeling the environmental impacts of bio-based plastics.