You’ve probably seen the horrifying photos of oceans full of plastic bottles bobbing about. Other pictures show birds and fish stuck in plastic or eating it. There are several especially heartbreaking and disturbing photos of deceased birds depicting their insides filled with plastic and other trash. Our deadly and immense plastic pollution problem needs to be addressed and resolved immediately.
Bioplastics are plastics in which all carbon is derived from renewable feedstock. Some bioplastics are biodegradable, but the ones containing fossil-fuel-based carbon are not. Among the feedstock used to create bioplastics are wood cellulose, corn, rice, potatoes, tapioca, palm fiber, wheat fiber, and bagasse (sugarcane or grape residue left after a product like juice has been extracted). Bioplastics can be used to manufacture plates, bottles, cutlery, bags, bedding, cups, furnishings, carpets, textiles, and package materials.
The USDA allows any material that’s fifty percent biobased to be called bioplastic. Some bioplastics can be composted, but others need to be recycled because they are not biodegradable.
Farmers around the globe have produced a surplus of corn and soybeans for years. Favorable weather and a glut of harvests resulted in farmers needing new business markets for their superfluous crops. Farmers are selling the extra crops to different companies that have found ways to use them in their production processes. Ford Motor Company is using bioplastics for seat cushions. Reebok is manufacturing sneakers with corn. Danone yogurt cups and Olay moisturizer have also incorporated bioplastics in their production. Researchers continue to investigate new ways to replace petroleum in products to attain sustainable technology.
Argo Genesis Chemical LLC has produced soy-made plastics for use in products like road-paving materials, cardboard, and diapers adhesives.
NatureWorks makes plastics and fibers from greenhouse gases by using plants to transform the gases into sugar that the company can ferment. Then NatureWorks converts lactic acid into polylactic acid called Ingeo PLA. The polymers in the PLA are custom-made to a set of specific performance attributes. The PLA is used in the production of yogurt cups, baby wipes, 3D printers, beauty products, household items, construction materials, packaging, electronics, appliances, medical and hygiene products, landscaping materials, cards, cups, plates, and plastic utensils. NatureWorks continues to research other products to make with bioplastics.
Mazda is now using the same bioplastic technology to build sustainable cars. The Mazda Motor Corporation is manufacturing interiors and exteriors from bioplastics. Its partnership with Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation aims to make plastics from plant-derived materials to stop using petroleum resources and also to decrease carbon dioxide emissions.
Currently, only a small percentage of surplus crops are being used for bioplastics. Some food-security groups are concerned that the farmland where the soybeans and corn is grown is needed to feed a growing population and should be devoted to food production, not bioplastics. As far as food-security, the best option would be to send the surplus to countries suffering from famine. Unfortunately, the farmers need to profit from their crops and sending it to countries without enough food isn’t lucrative.
Ultimately, bioplastic is another innovative product that protects our planet, because sustainable products won’t wind up in landfills or oceans. Future scientific progress with bioplastic usage will continue to replace non-biodegradable plastic. It’s exciting and comforting that so many natural resources can potentially be utilized in lieu of unsustainable plastic and other unsustainable materials.