Maximizing Acetyl-CoA Output by Genetically Engineering E. coli for the Overall Output of the Bioplastic PHB; Sociotechnical Analysis of Bioplastic Implementation and Sustainability Statements of Soda Companies

Nguyen, Thomas, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Kester, Mark, MD-PHAR Pharmacology, University of Virginia
Kozminski, Keith, AS-Biology, University of Virginia
Foley, Rider, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

The majority of plastics are non-biodegradable, and are derived from natural gas and crude oil. They are produced in an energy-intensive process that emits greenhouse gases, contributing to global warming and the plastic pollution crisis. While bioplastics can serve as a possible alternative with a smaller carbon footprint to traditional plastics, they are costly and do not have enough practical benefit aside from better environmental sustainability to justify the cost of implementation. My team’s Capstone project is to genetically modify our sponsor’s (Transfoam) strain of bacteria capable of producing PHB bioplastic to improve PHB yield through gene deletions of nonessential pathways. Success in our design would translate to a more scalable and efficient manufacturing process for producing PHB bioplastic with our sponsor’s bacteria, and improving bioplastic accessibility. To address the plastic pollution crisis, there needs to be action taken by human actors from individuals, to corporations, and regulating bodies to create the infrastructure necessary to support the implementation of plastic alternatives such as by addressing consumerism culture and education, and improving access to recycling facilities for clean disposal of bioplastics. For my STS research project, I’m performing document analysis of the sustainability statements of the three largest soda companies, Coca Cola Company, PepsiCo, and Keurig Dr Pepper, and will reference the triple-bottom-line framework for sustainability which has organizational principles in economic prosperity, social equity, and environmental quality. My data collection will be done by determining the frequency that the principles outlined by the triple-bottom-line are mentioned in each company’s statement, and analyzing what values are motivating their sustainability efforts and trends that could be found in the beverage industry as a whole. I expect to find similar patterns across every company with greater emphasis on environmental sustainability and less emphasis on economic prosperity due to the latter being traditionally the cause of less social and environmentally sustainable decisions. The transition of bioplastics into current plastic infrastructure requires the intersection of technical development, and a concerted effort on part of individuals, companies, and governments in order to make change. This effort includes my Capstone project in developing an optimized strain of our sponsor’s bacteria for increased PHB production, and in my STS research, where I analyze the patterns that could be found in the sustainability statements of large companies responsible for the most plastic waste and the measures that they’ve already taken to promote sustainable development.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
bioplastic, plastic, pollution, triple-bottom-line, triple bottom line, csr, corporate social responsibility, sustainability

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering
Technical Advisors: Mark Kester, Keith Kozminski
STS Advisor: Rider Foley
Technical Team Members: Xin Chen, Sang-Hoon Park, Hannah Towler, Tammy Tran, Julia Yao

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