by Liz White, editor
Although recent publicity about the work of Dr Geoff Robson at Manchester University produced headlines about composting sofas, his work was not based on flexible foam, but on a generic polyester-polyol-based PU material.
Nevertheless, assessing the feasibility of large-scale composting of bulky flexible foam PU components is one of his eventual aims, the microbiology lecturer admitted, in a 19 Jan telephone interview.
Robson has recently looked at what happens if polyester polyurethanes are placed in an environment containing fungi and nutrients, following an initial study on what happens when you bury PU in earth – designed to mimic the fate of such parts in landfill, said Robson.
“We were interested in finding out what were the major groups of organisms involved in their degradation and colonisation,” he said.
“The initial results we got … were that the species involved were predominantly, fungi, rather than bacterial,” said Robson. This is not too surprising because “they [fungi] are fairly dominant in the soil,” he noted.
“We wanted to see if we could enhance the rate of degradation,” and his team assessed two ways of stimulating polymer breakdown: adding nutrients to the soil to try to increase fungal growth and, “to take some of the organisms we had previously isolated as being degraders and add them in to the soil to see if that would enhance the rate of degradation,” Robson said.
“Both of those…