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What Is Bioplastic? Can It Save The World?

Save the turtles!


Reduce, reuse, recycle. Or so they say.

But is plastic really bad for the environment?

All kinds?

200 million tons of plastic are used worldwide each year, making it the third most widely used petroleum derivative. Plastic does not degrade, which means that bottle of water you drank, if it made its way to the sea, most likely it’ll remain there for decades, if not centuries.

How Is Plastic Made?

Natural, organic materials like cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt, and, of course, crude oil are used to make plastics.

Before it can be used, crude oil must be processed because it is a complicated mixture of thousands of compounds. In an oil refinery, the first step in making plastics is the distillation of crude oil.

 This divides the heavy crude oil into fractions of lighter parts, or groups. Each fraction consists of a mixture of hydrocarbon chains with various molecular sizes and structures.

One essential ingredient for making plastics is one of these fractions, naphtha. Plastics are made primarily through the polymerization and polycondensation processes, both of which call for specific catalysts.

Long polymer chains are created in a polymerization reactor by joining monomers like ethylene and propylene. Depending on the different types of basic monomers used, each polymer has a unique structure, size, and set of properties.

So wait? Plastic must be bad. It’s an oil byproduct, and oil mining is harmful.

Bioplastic, on the other hand, is not harmful. Let’s understand what bioplastics are!

What Are Bioplastics?

Bioplastics, which are renewable and biodegradable, can be used to lessen the issue of plastic waste, which is suffocating the planet and polluting the environment.

Worldwide, a variety of distinctive biological materials are used to create various bioplastics and bio-based plastics. The two most widely produced bioplastics at the moment are PHA and PLA.

The term “PLA” refers to polylactic acid, a thermoplastic polymer that is made from the sugar in some plants, including corn and sugarcane. Polylactic acids (PLAs) frequently share properties with polypropylene and polyethene. After PHAs, they are the second most popular bioplastic.

Currently, PHAs account for about 5% of the total amount of plastic produced and consumed worldwide. These bioplastics are referred to as polyhydroxyalkanoates, a polyester that is created naturally by microorganisms from starch. PHAs are incredibly adaptable because they can combine with more than 150 different kinds of monomers to make plastics with a range of properties.

Because they are inexpensive to produce, PLAs are most frequently found in food packaging and other consumer goods. PHAs are typically only used in medical equipment because this plastic is frequently used in the injection molding process.

Now you think bioplastics are sustainable alternatives to plastics. Everyone should use them to save the planet.

Advantages & Disadvantages

The lowest energy footprint and least-polluted ecosystem are the main benefits of bioplastics. Increased use of bioplastics will help solve the issue of overflowing landfills and floating islands of trash.

However, not all bioplastics actually degrade quickly; if they are not disposed of properly, some bio-based plastics won’t break down for decades.

Bioplastics are also becoming more and more popular because they don’t contain bisphenol A (BPA).

You might remember seeing advertisements for BPA-free products, particularly in food storage and baby feeding items, due to their alleged capacity to disrupt hormonal activity.

Although it is still unclear what the potential effects of BPA in consumer goods might be, the European Union, for instance, has banned the use of BPA in baby bottles.

Some bioplastics produce fewer greenhouse gases during production than plastics made from petroleum.

For instance, polylactic acid (PLA) is one bioplastic that can be produced using existing manufacturing tools, which reduces the cost of production. The entire lifecycle of plastics is not necessarily accounted for.

In many cases, the methods used to grow the plants have a significant environmental impact, and what happens to a bioplastic product after it is used can vary.

It can be difficult for consumers to determine which bioplastics they are using are recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable. Due to improper disposal of many bioplastics and the lack of facilities in some areas to sort, compost, or recycle bioplastics, everything might end up in a landfill anyway. For instance, a consumer might put a cup made of polylactic acid (PLA) in the recycle bin even though it should actually be composted because it feels and looks like regular plastic.

That said, bioplastics can actually partially save the world, keep the turtles alive, and take one step towards sustainable living with zero footprint.

It takes one act to contribute, whether it is using a metal straw, switching to microplastics when possible, or just reusing your products, one day at a time.