Team:ECUST China/Human Practices


"Human Practices is the study of how your work affects the world, and how the world affects your work."

— Peter Carr, Director of Judging

Real-world problems don’t have a single or a simple answer, so Human Practices need to look beyond the lab, and consider every aspect of paper recycling process. Besides, we analyzed the influence our project would make to communities and stakeholders through multiple channels, which gave us glimpses of the future of our research project and made sure our project was responsible and influential. During this process, with the help of the stakeholders、instructors and other teams,we explicated feasibility, application prospects and effect of our project.

Integrated Human Practices

As philosopher K. R. Popper once said:"It is the question that inspired us to learn, to practice, and to observe." During the implementation of our project, we were faced with all sorts of challenges, many of which were solved through Human Practices.

Here, we are excited to share our experience with you to show what we have achieved to inform our project selection, design and execution by engaging with potential users, stakeholders and other experts.

Initial phase -- Find the Support!

    In our early preparation,We consulted many professors and teams to prove our project theoretically feasible. Meanwhile, we wanted to know :

  • How waste paper is recycled?
  • Is it convenient for us and future factory to obtain waste paper?
  • Are people willing to collect waste paper and use recycled paper after?

To get a full picture about nowadays paper industry, we conducted following activities and indeed obtained a great number of useful statistics to point us a clearer path.

Public opinions

Ⅰ.Online investigation: A questionnaire titled ‘where did your paper go’ was released and distributed in order to obtain the public paper recycle rates and the acceptance to recycled paper.

Feedback from our total 165 valid samples is shown below, revealing that 69.09% of the respondents do have the habit of collecting waste paper and 86.06% are willing to use recycled paper.

The inspiring result reflected supportive attitudes from the public and the wide market of recycled paper, which clearly stood by us. At the same time, in order to promote waste paper recycling, we went to nearby communities and schools to teach people how to classify waste paper.

Figure 1. ECUST survey results conducted in 2019/06

Ⅱ.Field interview: Our team members implemented offline interviews in four communities and two tourist attractions. The overall attitude gathered from 75 interviewees toward the recent waste classification and paper recycling was totally positive.

Figure 2. Duan interviewing locals at Chenghuang Temple and Yu Yuan

Global status

In addition, we conducted a comprehensive and systematic study of the current situation of paper recycling by means of literature review and survey.

Ⅰ.Policies: Since 2000, Chinese government has been promoting the application of recycled paper and renewable energy, and has rewarded recycled paper company with tax privilege. In 2019, the "Shanghai Domestic Waste Management Regulations" came into force, which made waste paper recycling a daily routine of all Shanghainese.

Ⅱ.Authoritative reports: We acquired the "2018 Paper Association Annual Report " from China Paper Association and compared it with the data of past ten years. It showed that the paper recycling rate in China has been constantly increasing, and we found that waste pulp is the main resource of recycled paper and the recycling process has been improving as well.

Figure 3. Recycling rate, data derived from Paper Association Annual Report

After gathering all the information, we were more endeavored to do something for paper recycling. Besides, we found that compared to raw wood pulp, paper production using waste pulp can save nearly 75% energy, which means that recycling every 1 ton of waste pulp will save approximately 3 m³of wood, 1.2 ton of standard coal, 600 KW*h of electricity and 100 m³ of water.

So why haven’t recycled paper prevailed the world market? We followed the process of recycled paper, as the increase of recycling cycles, the ratio of short fibers climes up, along with the degradation of paper strength due to the keratinization, so by this downcycling the value of paper goes down. And this is the reason that keeps paper from infinite recycle.

To further verify our investigation result and to find an applicable solution, we sought the assistance of experts and stakeholders, which sequentially lifted our human practices to a higher level.

Middle phase -- Clarity the practical significance!

Literature study

The qualities and physical properties of recycled paper are hard to match the original paper. To find out why, we consulted literature and found that one of the main factors leading to the deterioration was the increase of short fibers in the paper. Short fibers generated due to keratinization during the recycle process and made lignocellulose shorter and shorter.

The traditional method of solving this problem is to add wood pulp into waste pulp, but this will introduce hemicellulose and other impurities, as a result complicating recycle process and increasing the cost of recycling paper, which makes it a less satisfied way to recycle paper. (M. O. Rahman, 2013 )

Therefore, we chose in situ synthesis of bacterial cellulose in recycled paper, an innovative.

Factory visits


We visited three factories in local paper industrial park and learned about relevant production processes. We found that a significant part of pollution generated by these paper mills comes from wastewater. This wastewater can be divided into white water and black water, and one pollutant in white water is short fibers.

Figure 4-5. Duan and Liu visiting Shanghai Industial Park

Then it came to us that our bacteria can be used to degrade short fibers in white water, then synthesize bacterial cellulose, which was a win-win for both environment and industries. Through this transformation not only the environmental pollution was reduced, but also the performance of recycled paper can be improved.

To further confirm our vision, we decided to go to a special recycled paper mill for more detailed investigations.


After contacting with a number of papermaking companies, we focused on Fulun Hangzhou Ecological Technology Co., Ltd., an environmentally-friendly enterprise that produces paper, plastic and aluminum products by recycling waste milk boxes.

During communication, staffs from Fulun required us to provide 50 flattened empty milk cartons per person as our tour tickets. It took us some time to finally collect all these milk boxes though ourselves and our acquaintances, but this surely added a fulfilling sensation to our journey.

Figure 6. ECUST iGEMers handing out empty milk boxes

At Fulun, we visited the assembly lines from waste paper cartons to manufacturing recycled paper and learned about the current state of the paper industry. After that, we communicated with Mr. Cao Yandong in-depth, a technical consultant of Fulun Enterprise, to discuss the feasibility and economic benefits of our project.

Figure 7-8. Fulun Factory inside views

"Papermaking is a small-profits and quick-turnover industry. Many manufacturers only focus on reducing costs but never put an eye on sustainable development.” Mr. Cao said, “I am glad to see your team concerning about the problems in this industry. Your ideas are fantastic."

“We want to use ‘whitewater’ as the carbon source and materials of our engineered bacteria. Is this feasible from your point of view?”

Mr. Cao pointed out that is not suitable for our purpose because of the developed whitewater treatment nowadays ensured less than 0.5% fiber content in white water, also, bactericide is added into white water during process. What he said alerted us that the actual situation may be not the same as the literature, so field visits were indispensable and could obtain first-hand information.

Additionally, Mr. Cao compared the paper price of different qualities and told us that the excessively short fiber content made paper worse and cheaper. Mr. Cao also told us that factories often use filter aids and wet strength agents to alleviate the effect caused by short fibers, but still, there are certain drawbacks. Using engineered bacteria can be more environmentally friendly. After receiving the support and encouragement of Mr. Cao, we are more enthusiastic and confident about creating our paper transformer.

Based on the above survey, we were clear that ‘whitewater’ is not a proper bacterial growth environment. We soon turned to waste paper pulp.We consulted Pro. Fu Shiyu,who took pulping technology and biomass-based functional materials as the research direction and he affirmed our idea of using waste pulp as raw materials.

So we decided to use waste paper pulp as the application environment of our engineered bacteria, through decomposition of short fibers and in situ synthesis of bacterial cellulose, our paper transformer can improve the paper recycling process to achieve upcycling rather than downcycling by adding lignocellulose, the quality of waste paper pulp, and finally improve the quality of recycled paper, thus promoting waste paper recycling.

If the recycling rate of waste paper and the use of waste paper pulp can go up to a next level, we won't need to cut down so many trees, and earth would be a better place!

After clarifying the application and schema of our project, what we need to consider more was safety issues and public opinions. Consequently, we conducted research on social influences.

Figure 9. ECUST iGEMers taking photoes with Mr. Cao Yandong

Rising Stage -- Share, analyse and then improve!

Public safety

Ⅰ.Workers' comments:We interviewed paper mill workers during the visit of the Fulun Factory and asked if they would against adding bacteria in pulping process. They said that they wouldn't mind at all, since the steps they engaged in is after sterilization and heat-dry, what we do won’t affect their working condition.

Figure 10. Duan and Liu consulting Mr.Cao of his opinions on our project

Ⅱ.Public comments: We once again issued a questionnaire with a brief introduction about our project and ask for public opinions about their acceptances of bacteria produced paper and bacterial cellulose.

Although the concept of synthetic biology is prevailing nowadays and the range of applications of biological products spread widely, most people still have no idea about synthetic biology. This survey also revealed their opinions on the basic understanding of our project. We collected 202 valid responses and found that 82.67% of them accept microbes in the paper industry, and 87.62% are willing to use recycled paper containing bacterial cellulose.

Figure 11. Survey results on public acceptance, conducted by ECUST in 2019/10

Ⅲ.Safety regulations: We investigated relevant safety regulations, including "Biological Products Management Regulations" and "Biological Products Management Regulations", which clarified that it is feasible to use engineered bacteria for industrial production.

Environmental impact analyses

Besides all above, we have taken the future of paper transformer into serious considerations. How would we contribute to our surrounding environment and what’s the pros and cons? Thus, we conducted research on the following two aspects:

  • predict the environmental impact of adding bacteria into waste pulp through consulting literature.
  • analyze our contribution to energy saving by collecting data and modelling.

In order to understand the possible impact of engineered bacteria on the environment, we conducted a literature survey. In our simulation factory, water is recycled, our engineered bacteria are added to our fermentation tank and no waste water is discharged. for more information

Besides, E. coli is mixed in the product which will be added fungicides and sent to paper mills. E. coli metabolites themselves do not affect the product and bleach is added during the papermaking process. Paper mills will add germicides every step of the way to ensure that the final product will not release any bacteria, which is the same with what they do now, so we won’t be burden factories with additional costs.

In addition, literature also shows that compared with chemical pulping, biological pulping can save 66% electricity consumption, need no consumption of coal, 99.8% of water consumption and more than 50% of raw materials. In conclusion, our pulping method can reduce cost by half compared with traditional pulping.(Feasibility Analysis Report of no emission and no pollution biological pulp, 2005 )

Apart from above, we acquired that the average output of small paper mills in Shanghai, China was 30,000 tons of waste pulp annually. We estimated that 5%~10% could be used to produce bacterial cellulose, so we could use 2061 tons of waste pulp and consume 5360 tons of industrial molasses every year, and finally reduce the production of 17420 tons of waste water. According to the analysis of these data, our project is environmentally friendly, which reduces the burden of waste water treatment in the waste paper industries and reduces the pollution, saves pollution control funds and makes contributions to the green ecology. for more information

Creative communication

Ⅰ.Face to face: We expanded the influence of the project by organizing lectures, attending exchange meetings and other forms.

Ⅱ.Media promotion: In addition, we have been passionately promoting our team, project and synthetic biology concepts through social media, and had received much attention as well as sparked heated discussion. We made an introduction video--"The life of cellulose" to make the public understand our project better. We updated the progress of our team on the WeChat public account promptly, and promoted our experimental progress, the introduction of the ream members, as well as behind-the-scenes stories, etc. By October 20th, we have sent 15 articles and gained 5,561 views of 3,145 people. Also 14 INS. and two videos were published and received many ideas and comments which helped our program to be better.

Figure 12.Wechat account impact analysis



Shanghai, China


+86 021-64253306