6. August 2018
Reading time: 2 minutes
The fact that plastic comes from crude oil and that crude oil has often provided for one or another environmental catastrophe is probably not lost on anyone. Not only is manufacture problematic, but disposal as well. This has likely been the catalyst for an ecologically sustainable solution to the problem: bioplastic. But how biological is this “green” plastic in reality? We will show you!
The variety of products made from bioplastics is wide and covers just about all needs – from palm-leaf spoons for quinoa-strawberry-garlic smoothies and bamboo take-away containers for the fast-food munchies, to a sugar-cane plate for an environmentally-friendly picnic for two. But what is actually meant by biological? Completely tenable from an environmental perspective or just hot air?
The definitions here get a bit murky. On the one hand, bioplastic can be manufactured on the basis of renewable and organic raw materials such as corn starch or sugar. On the other, biodegradable plastics can be designated and labeled as bioplastic.
Bioplastic is thus neither fish nor fowl. But its advantage over conventional plastics is obvious – it requires no fossil resources. There are different methods for obtaining biological types of plastic from corn, bamboo, sugar cane and other consumable products. This is not to say that we should coat our disposable bio tableware with chocolate and repurpose it for dessert. The market share of bioplastics is still very low at 1.5 percent, but new manufacturing methods are being researched.
The “good will” seesaw …
… bioplastic must also contend with another problem. Like biofuel, it competes directly with food production. Valuable cultivable land, essential to third-world countries, goes lost to the production of knife, fork, etc.
Hope is recycled last
There is a silver lining in the use and processing of other organic raw materials such as wood and food waste. They do not conflict with anything, except perhaps with crawling bark beetles or other insects which feed on food waste. This idea may sound promising, but is still in its infancy. By far the most potentially successful alternative is PLA, also called ployactide and polyactic acid. The bacteria do need to be “fed” with a type of sugar, but a substitute is currently being researched for corn, potato, sugar cane, etc. – lignocellulose, also a component of wood, could be the next step in development. Its greatest advantage is that there is no competition for food production.
Years, even decades may pass before bioplastic can be produced in good conscience for the masses. Until then, look after the environment as best you can.