Murdoch University PhD candidate Joseph Boctor moved to Perth from Egypt this year with a mission – to tackle plastic pollution.
Tackling the plastics problem was a particular area of passion for Joseph, who said his home country was greatly impacted by the effects of discarded plastic waste.
“Egypt is a developing country, and, like most developing countries, it produces a large amount of plastic and has poor recycling infrastructure,” Joseph said.
With Egypt being surrounded by two significant seas, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, Joseph said the trickle-down effects of the pollution was significant.
On top of that, we have the Nile River, which is the source of life for all agriculture and the main source of potable water. This river – the longest river in the world – is also littered with plastic pollution."
In order to combat the issue of plastic waste, Joseph is undertaking research with the Murdoch University and CSIRO Bioplastics Innovation Hub, where he is working to find the enzymes in insects which can safely break plastic down.
Right now, Joseph is researching the ability of the Greater Wax Moth to eat and use fossil-based plastics as energy sources – a remarkable feature which evolved through eating a similar polymer, beeswax.
With much of the world’s single-use plastics ending up in the ocean, where more than 700 marine species are susceptible to harm, Joseph said it was important to “not just seek a safer alternative to petroleum-based plastics, but to safely get rid of the toxins of the past”.
“While bioplastics are a big part of the solution to pollution, these will be more important for developed nations that have the finance to implement the technology. In developing nations, the priority is getting rid of plastic waste,” Joseph said.
This is why I’m interested in finding safe and useful ways to degrade plastic polymers that would usually take up to 1000 years to degrade. This is what will solve the plastic waste in waterways like the Nile, because there is no way it can all be collected.”
Joseph said he had come to Perth to help find the solution because it was a unique project working together with whole of Australia to solve the same problem.
The solutions being developed are not only efficient and eco-friendly, but would quickly be able to make their way into commercial applications.
"I strongly believe that we have a huge responsibility towards keeping the earth habitable and healthy for all living species, including ourselves. Solving the plastic problem is a major step in that.”