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Bioplastics: An Alternative to Traditional Plastic

As scientists reveal the new climate change deadlines and organizations continue to push the importance of individual responsibility, more focus should be presented on collective responsibility as well. More specifically, the collective responsibility of companies and policy makers to play their part in the reduction of the emission of greenhouse gasses and the rampant use of single-use plastics that inevitably end up polluting the ocean and land spaces. One way that scientists are helping to fight this problem is by finding a replacement for plastic by creating Bioplastics instead. Bioplastics are defined as materials that are “bio-based, biodegradable, or both; they can provide excellent biodegradability and can be used to help alleviate environmental problems” (Ibrahim et al., 2021). This article will mainly focus on bio-based bioplastics which are made from organic materials such as fish scales and the sugars in corn-starch, cassava or sugar cane. Bioplastics produce significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions than traditional plastics, are biodegradable and compostable and can become a part of a circular economy.


During the course of their lifetime, Bioplastics produce significantly lower amounts of greenhouse gas emissions than traditional plastic (Cho, 2017). A study done by Posen (2017) shows that if the United States of America was to switch completely from traditional plastics to Bioplastics, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 25 percent. It also showed that if the production of traditional plastics were to be done with renewable resources instead, greenhouse gas emission would be lowered by up to 75 percent. Another advantage that Bioplastics have over traditional plastics, is that Bioplastics are biodegradable and compostable (Song et al., 2009). Bioplastics will completely break down into water and carbon dioxide and return to nature whether in weeks or months and microorganisms will break them down in water, carbon dioxide and biomass and inorganic compounds leaving no toxic residue (Cho, 2017). This is unlike traditional plastics that will never return to nature, instead, breaking down into millions of fragments called microplastics, which contaminate water, the organisms and animals that live in and drink water, and humans that eat those organisms. Traditional plastics also take roughly 500 years to decompose, contain BPA and leach toxic chemicals into the ground (Cho, 2017). Each year more than 330 millions tonnes of plastics are produced and roughly 40 percent is used for packaging (Ibrahim et al., 2021). If that 40 percent was fully or partially replaced with Bioplastics, the amount of garbage in the landfills that never decompose will significantly lessen, along with the plastics that break down into microplastics in the ocean. This will recreate a circular economy, lessening the waste produced from packaging items, especially if the Bioplastic was fully made from renewable resources, as it would fully decompose (Rosenboom et al., 2022).


As more research is done around the world to help develop greener alternatives to everyday products, Bioplastics have proven to be one of the most useful inventions to date especially since traditional plastics are so problematic in how we use them, and where they end up when we’re done.

By Trishanna Ford


References

Cho, R. (2017, December 13). The Truth About Bioplastics. State of the Planet. https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2017/12/13/the-truth-about-bioplastics/

Ibrahim, N. I., Shahar, F. S., Sultan, M. T. H., Shah, A. U. M., Safri, S. N. A., & Mat Yazik, M. H. (2021). Overview of Bioplastic Introduction and Its Applications in Product Packaging. Coatings, 11(11), 1423. https://doi.org/10.3390/coatings11111423

Pilot, O. (2020, March 13). What the 2030 Climate Deadline Really Means. Climate One. https://www.climateone.org/audio/what-2030-climate-deadline-really-means

Posen, I. D., Jaramillo, P., Landis, A. E., & Griffin, W. M. (2017). Greenhouse gas mitigation for U.S. plastics production: energy first, feedstocks later. Environmental Research Letters, 12(3), 034024. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aa60a7

Rosenboom, J.-G., Langer, R., & Traverso, G. (2022). Bioplastics for a circular economy. Nature Reviews. Materials, 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41578-021-00407-8

Song, J. H., Murphy, R. J., Narayan, R., & Davies, G. B. H. (2009). Biodegradable and compostable alternatives to conventional plastics. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1526), 2127–2139. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2008.0289


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