Is Bioplastic the future?
Where we are well versed with plastic pollution and its impact, we are still nowhere close to decrease this pollution by 10% even. Over 380 million tons of plastic is being produced annually, and half of it is used to manufacture single-use plastic. Several reforms and measures have been adopted globally to ban this use & throw plastic, but is imposing a ban the only solution that could curb the increasing plastic pollution?
In response to the need to introduce a substitute for conventional plastic, the first bioplastic was introduced in 1926. As the research is still going on in this field, we are left with many “ifs and buts”.
Bioplastic: What it is & how it differs from synthetic plastic?
The majority of the plastic products we have been using over the decades are actually synthetic plastics, which are made from natural gas, coal, or crude oil.
While bioplastic or bio-based plastic is derived from renewable resources or natural resources such as plants and biological substances, Vegetable fats and oils, cornstarch, and bacteria are the major sources of production of bioplastics.
The most common type of bioplastic in use is Polylactide acid (PLA) as it can successfully replicate polyethylene and polypropylene (often used in food packaging).
PLAs often have a lower carbon footprint as compared to their conventional plastic counterparts.
Why bioplastic fails to hold major market space?
Due to low oil prices, the feedstock available for traditional plastic tends to be cheaper than that available for bio-based plastic.
Moreover, bioplastic accounts for research and development, which adds to the cost of the end product. Where the cost of bio-based products initially fails to compete with petrochemical-based plastic, it is expected that with increasing demand for bio-products they will be made economically viable, but again, bringing this transformation will take several years.
The other factor is the growing concern about the usage of land. As the raw materials for bioplastics are often plant-based, they compete with the same land available for food production. Where there is a high demand for food, using the crop for plastic production has been a major topic for debate.
Where does bioplastic lack?
- Depending upon the raw material or the polymerization process, bioplastics usually differ in properties. As a result, not every bioplastic is biodegradable and compostable. They require industrial composting or a special atmosphere to biodegrade.
- When a bioplastic gets mixed with petrochemical-based plastic in the recycling plant, it becomes impossible to recycle the entire lot.
- Some biodegradable plastics produce methane gas on decomposition, which is a potential greenhouse gas.
- Fertilizers and pesticides used during crop production tend to generate pollutants during the production of bioplastics.
Can bioplastic compete with traditional plastic?
We have finite petrochemical resources to produce plastic. Also, this conventional plastic just degrades over the years to become microplastic and ends up being more dangerous for the environment.
Bioplastics produced by microorganisms and food waste can reduce the dependency on other crops available for consumption. As the feedstock for bioplastic is renewable, the production process may affect the end characteristics of the bio based product.
It’s important to know the right kind of disposal for the bioplastic, i.e. biodegradable, home or industrial compostable or recyclable, so that it doesn’t end up littering the landfills or the water bodies.
Where bioplastic is still under research, more renewable alternates are expected to be introduced. But with the limited products available, bioplastics have been able to successfully replace conventional single-use plastic.
With an alternate available, it still doesn’t encourage us to throw bioplastics in landfills. It’s important to look for the right disposal methods so that we can choose environment-friendly products that get recovered at the end of their usage cycle.
TheGreenLiving is reader-supported. When you buy via the links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.