A new development in plastic technology is bioplastics which is derived from renewable biomass sources such as vegetable fats and oils, corn starch, straw, woodchips, food waste, etc. Not only is bioplastic made from agricultural byproducts (which reduces waste), but it can also be made from previously used plastic bottles (single-use plastic) and other containers with the help of certain micro-organisms.
Bioplastic products look and feel the same as conventional products and they behave the same as well.
How is it different from normal plastic?
Conventional plastic is made from petroleum products, which is generally a scarce and expensive resource whereas bioplastic is made from organic materials such as corn starch and is usually made up of polylactic acid (PLA). Bio-degradable plastic is still made from petroleum-based products but it contains an additive that makes them break down at a faster rate.
Types of Bioplastics
Bioplastics are usually derived from sugar derivatives which include cellulose, starch, glucose, lactic acid and oil are commonly found in the market today. Various specialized techniques are applied to these plant-based products to turn them into thermoplastic starch, polylactic acid, poly-3-hydroxybutyrate, polyamide 11 and biopolyethylene.
Thermoplastic starch is the most widely used bioplastic at the moment, taking up about 50% of the market. The popularity can possibly be attributed to the fact that the raw materials are cheap, abundant and renewable. The complex blends of the plastic make it water resistant and very useful in processing for its mechanical properties.
Cellulose-based plastic is rarer on the market because the production process is quite expensive, Cellulose needs to be extensively refined and processed before it becomes plastic. It can be used for packaging, however, but due to the cost, it is used for mostly used for speciality packaging such as gifts.
Protein-based plastics are currently being considered and wheat gluten and cassien seem to be the favourites so far. Soy protein has been used in plastic production for the past 100 years already. The difficulties in using soy protein are that it is not water resistant and the production process is expensive.
The fact that renewable pant based biomass is used to produce the plastic, instead of expensive, rare fossil fuels, makes the production process a lot more sustainable. The raw material is easily replenished and does not use any of our scarce resources. Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced and there is a decrease in non-renewable energy consumption in the production of bioplastics.
Bioplastics can be made biodegradable. Therefore, it is up to the producer whether or not his products will have a negative, long lasting effect on the environment.
Advantages of Bioplastics
- You get to reduce your carbon footprint because you are using a product that was created from more sustainable raw materials
- The production process itself is less impactful on the environment
- Non-renewable sources, which refers to fossil fuels, are not consumed. However, should there be a growing demand for these products, the plastics industry could start competing for resources with the food production industry
- Reduction of non-biodegradable waste, which pollutes the environment. Petroleum-based products contain certain chemicals which are harmful to us and the environment and does not break down during the degrading process.
- No additives are contained that can damage your health, like phthalates or biphenol-A
- They do not alter the flavour or smell of the food stored in them