Most plastic products are made from petroleum which includes polyethylene, PVC, polypropylene, polystyrene, polyester, nylon, and acrylic. Due to their low cost, ease of manufacture, versatility, and resistant to water, plastics are used in a variety of products of different scale, from paper clips to spacecraft. However, our heavy and carefree use of Petroleum plastic came back to haunt humanity in the form of plastic pollution.
“Plastic trash thrown at beach in Ghana.”
BIOPLASTICS – IT’S COMPLICATED
Bio plastic is new technology, and as such there is some confusion surrounding it. In order to fully understand what bioplastics are, and to envision the global change they will make, we must first get down to the basics. Bioplastic is an umbrella term used for plastics that are biobased, biodegradable or both. The confusion arises within these definitions.
Biobased plastics have a unique advantage over conventional petroleum-based plastic in the sense that the composition is made fully, or in part, from plants or other biological matter. Biodegradable plastics can also be partly or fully made from plants or other biological matter BUT can also be fossil based. The advantage with Biodegradable plastics is the materials potential to break down in certain environment such as a compost. However, this compost must in the majority of cases be an INDUSTRIAL Compost.
“Bioplastic can be made from certified sugarcane in two different densitites for strength and hardness..”
A game changing difference becomes apparent at the point of disposal – the materials end of life cycle.
Bioplastic VS Conventional Plastic
Following are the key differences between biodegradable and non-biodegradable substances:
- Biodegradable materials are those which decompose naturally in the environment and are considered beneficial for the environment. The natural agents involved in the degradation are air, water, microorganisms, sunlight, soil, etc. Non-biodegradable substances are those wastes that do not decompose naturally in the environment, cause pollution and are also harmful to the living being.
- Examples of biodegradable substances are dead plants and animals, their waste, fruits, vegetables, flower, paper, etc., while non-biodegradable materials include chemicals, paints, plastic, rubber, toxic, plastic, metals, etc.
- The rate of decomposition of biodegradable substances is slow, which completes within few days or months, whereas the non-biodegradable items either do not decompose and maintain their originality or their decomposition is so slow that it may take thousands of years.
- Biodegradable substances after degradation can be used to produce bio-gas, manure, fertilizers, compost, and thus they are profitable to the environment even after degradation. But in non-biodegradable substances, the degradation rate is slow, and the separation and recycling are not easy, expensive, and are not beneficial to the environment.
“Spork and Straw from Light My Fire.packaged in Recycled Cardboard..”
In using renewable organic matter, we engage in a regenerative cycle that is not only sustainable but an excellent substitute to fossil fuel dependency. The plant’s growth cycles remove CO2 from the atmosphere, suggesting that a global change to biobased plastics would be equal to reduce millions of tons of CO2 emissions every year.
We are on a journey toward 100% natural materials with processes and technologies aligned to that goal. In time this will lead to a truly sustainable natural product with all the benefits of plastic and none of the negatives.
Every step toward this goal is a step towards a brighter future for us all.