Scientists at Imperial College London have figured out that if all the UK’s discarded Christmas wrapping paper and cards were collected and fermented, they could make enough biofuel to run a double-decker bus the distance to the moon and back more than 20 times.
These scientists say this demonstrates that industrial quantities of waste paper could be turned into high grade biofuel, to power motor vehicles, by fermenting the paper using microorganisms.
The researchers point to an estimated 1.5 billion Christmas cards and 83 square kilometers of wrapping paper pitched to the trash bin by UK residents each year. Some are recycled, but most end up in landfills. The scientists say this amount of paper could provide up to 12 million liters (3 million gallons) of biofuel – enough to run a bus for up to 18 million kilometers (11 million miles).
Add ons like glitter and scotch tape on your Christmas cards and paper? No worries, say these scientists. The cellulose molecules in the tape would be broken down into glucose sugars and then fermented into ethanol fuel, just like the paper itself. Insoluble items like glitter are easy to filter out as part of the process.
But don’t stop recycling your discarded paper and Christmas cards just yet. At the moment, recycling remains the best way to deal with them.
However, these scientists say, if this technology can be developed further, waste paper might ultimately provide a great, environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. When I think back to the giant trash bags of paper I’ve pitched in Christmases past, I can only wish them well.
Bottom line: If the technology to do it were more developed, and if you could gather all the UK’s discarded Christmas paper and cards together for the purpose, you could use the UK’s Christmas trash to make enough biofuel to send a double-decker bus the distance of the moon and back 20 times. That’s a distance of 18 million kilometers. Scientists at Imperial College London say this demonstrates that industrial quantities of waste paper could be turned into high grade biofuel, to power motor vehicles, by fermenting the paper using microorganisms.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.