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Is Bioplastic The Future?

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 ton of plastic is being produced annually and half of it is used to manufacture single-use plastic.  As per Plastic Industry reports, Several reforms and measures have been adopted globally to ban this use and throw plastic but is imposing a ban the only solution that could curb the increasing plastic pollution?

With the need to introduce a substitute for conventional plastic, in 1926 first Bioplastic was introduced.  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 that are made from natural gas, coal, or crude oil. Whilst bioplastic or bio-based plastic is derived from renewable resources or natural resources such as plants & biological substances. Vegetable fats and oils, cornstarch, bacteria are the major sources of the production of bioplastics.

The most common type of bioplastic in use is Polylactide acid (PLA) as it could 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 does bioplastic fail to hold major market space?

Due to low oil prices, 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 for the usage of land. As the raw materials for bioplastic are often plant-based, it competes 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?

  1. 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.  
  2. When a bioplastic gets mixed with petrochemical-based plastic in the recycling plant, it becomes impossible to recycle the entire lot.
  3. Some biodegradable plastics produce methane gas on decomposition which is a potential greenhouse gas.
  4. 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. Where bioplastics produced by microorganisms and food waste can reduce the dependency on other crops available for consumption. As the feedstock 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 the throw bioplastics in landfills. It’s important to look for the right disposal ways so that we can choose an environment-friendly product that gets recovered at the end of its usage cycle. Also Is chemical recycling worth the hype?

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