Are Plant-Based Plastics All They’re Cracked Up to Be?
By admin November 16, 2018

Tags: , , ,

Trillions of pounds of plastic have been produced to date, of which billions flow into the ocean each year. They ensnare marine life, including the fish we eat at our meals, appear in our table salt, and traces of them have even been discovered in our own bodies.

As research into the harmfulness of plastic continues to grow, both consumers and manufacturers are left scrambling to find accessible alternatives, which is where bioplastics have started to take root.

At a glance, the sound of the name bioplastic sounds promising- but is it truly an answer for all our environmental woes? Scientists say that it is a complicated matter and warn that the potential merits of bioplastic rest on many “ifs.”

Bioplastic simply refers to plastic made from plants or other biological material instead of petroleum and it is often called bio-based plastic. It can be made from polylactic acids (PLAs) found in plants like corn and sugarcane, or it can be derived from polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) engineered from microorganisms. PLA plastic is commonly used in food packaging, while PHA is often used in medical devices like sutures and cardiovasulcar patches.

PLA often comes from factories that make products like ethanol, therefore it’s the cheapest source of bioplastic and the most utilized one, found in plastic bottles, utensils, and textiles.

Proponents of bioplastic argue that it is a key factor in reducing the carbon footprint. A small percentage of the world’s oil is used to make plastic, and advocates of bioplastic agree that a reduction on this use is a major benefit. This rests on the idea that if a plastic item releases carbon once discarded, as it degrades, bioplastics will add less carbon to the atmosphere because they’re returning the carbon that plants absorbed while growing.

Depending on the type of polymer used to make it, discarded bioplastic must either be sent to a landfill, recycled, or sent to an industrial compost site. Unfortunately, if PLA bioplastic does leak out, it does not biodegrade in the ocean thus making it no different from industrial polymers. The dearth of industrial compost sites means bioplastics will do little to curb the amount of plastic entering waterways. This has now become a lucrative field of entrepreneurial investors, as there’s no shortage of opportunities to create alternatives that are marine degradable that don’t tax the planet. Bioplastics harness untapped potential but without adequate composting infrastructure, bioplastics can ultimately become an example of greenwashing, when consumers are misled about the true sustainability of a product.

For Further Reading:

Bioplastics: Great green hope or a false promise?

The Problems With Bioplastics

Thanks for sharing !

Comments are disabled.