Bioplastic: A Saving Grace
The early 20th century has seen the rise of plastic consumption. Since then, there has been no turning back. The convenience of plastic has made it challenging for us to imagine modern life without it.
“Synthetic plastic comes from petrochemicals. When the source of oil beneath the surface of the Earth is identified, holes are drilled through the rocks in the ground to extract oil. However the growing demand for limited oil-reserves is driving a need for newer plastics from renewable resources such as waste biomass or animal-waste products from the industry.” – The British Plastic Federation.
200 million tonnes of plastic is used around the world, accounting for it to be the third most commonly used petroleum derivative. This same plastic can approximately take 1000s of years to break down and decompose. Considering the fact that our resources to manufacture plastic are fast depleting and harming the planet, it is of urgent need to switch to bioplastic.
What are bioplastics?
The first bioplastic known to us is polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB). It was discovered by a French researcher, Maurice Lemoigne in 1926, from his work with the bacterium Bacillus megaterium. For many decades, his discovery was not paid any heed as petroleum was found in abundance back then. Eventually, during the petroleum crisis in the mid 1970’s, scientists revisited alternatives to petroleum based products.
Bioplastics are the eco-friendly alternative to synthetic plastics that are engineered from renewable sources like vegetable oil, starch, sugarcane and corn, yeast, animal waste or biomass. Bioplastics are biodegradable and can be naturally recycled, reducing the need to make use of fossil fuels. They are adaptable and resistant and being used in industries such as agriculture, medicine, textile, cosmetics and packaging.
Syed Ali Ashter, in his book - Introduction to Bioplastics Engineering, 2016 says, “Since bioplastics are plant-based products, the consumption of petroleum for the production of plastic is expected to decrease by 15–20% by 2025. By 2025, Asia and Europe will have the largest share of the bioplastics market.”
Benefits of using bioplastic –
- It excludes additives such as phthalates or bisphenol A that are harmful to our health
- Drastically reduces carbon footprint
- Decreases non-biodegradable waste that pollutes the environment
- They do not consume petroleum oil, hence no oil drilling or coal mining is required
- Non-toxic and do not leach chemicals into the soil
- Improves food safety
- Bioplastics are compostable, a more sustainable option
- Overall there is less plastic litter due to bioplastic consumption
What are the applications of bioplastic?
- Food services – Takeaway food is so common with our current lifestyle leading to increased waste production. Bioplastics are helping ease waste through thermoformed coffee cup lids, disposable cutlery, boxes and plates.
- Packaging – Bioplastics are rapidly changing the conventional plastic packaging method. Packaging amounts to the widest segment of the European bioplastic industry.
- Medical – According to an article by Key Plastics, “Nontoxic biodegradable bioplastics sutures, commonly referred to as stitches, are now being used by medical professionals in hospitals and surgeries.”
- Cosmetics – There is now scope for eco-friendly cosmetic packaging through bioplastics. The impact of disposable razors, cotton buds and brushes on the environment is burdening and hence companies are actively looking at alternatives.
- Automobiles – The automotive industry is currently working towards reducing carbon emission and increasing sustainable vehicles. With bioplastics in the picture, the industry will take a step forward in being kinder to the planet.
How can we as individuals contribute?
From the above information, we can conclude that bioplastics are a great alternative to synthetic plastic. We as individuals can make a change by doing our research and opting to purchase from brands that make use of bioplastics. The act of taking responsibility and being mindful can go great lengths in improving the Earth’s wellbeing.
At IRIDA Naturals, we have taken the initiative to keep our packaging eco-friendly. IRIDA was one of the first brands to introduce bioplastics in India and we hope to inspire the rest!
We got this, together!