Saturday, September 15, 2012

BioPlastics: For Better of Worse?

Bioplastics, which are plastics made from plants, are popping up more and more lately. This labeling can be found on water bottles and other previously taboo plastic containers. I decided to do a little research to get the scoop on these supposedly compostable, sustainable, eco-friendly plastics (sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?) and what I found is definitely worth sharing. 

Traditional plastic is a petroleum product. Bioplastic is made from plant derivatives such as cellulose or starch. Of course, the primary plant used for bioplastic is corn, which 
creates another dilemma entirely and is not much better than using petroleum. Other plants may be used, however, so for the sake of argument let's say our bioplastic is being made from one of the other plant possibilities. What then is its impact on our environment?

First it is important to realize that bioplastic is still made in a factory on machinery that is run by petroleum products. However, while statistics abound and often vary, it is widely accepted that making bioplastic from farm to finished product still uses at least 20% less petroleum than traditional petro-plastic. 

Second, it is important to realize that even though these plant-based plastics can be made from agricultural byproducts, most are being made from crops that are grown specifically for industrial uses. This means deforestation, over-use of farmland, soil erosion, heavy pesticide use and more. 

It is also important that even though your plastic bottle may say "biodegradable," it may degrade so slowly or require such specific circumstances that it will not actually biodegrade. The good news is that starch-based plastics, while less durable, will actually degrade in compost conditions. 

Another problem with bioplastic is that it is recyclable, but must be recycled separately from traditional petro-plastic. Mixing of the two can cause serious damage to equipment at recycling facilities and most consumers don't know to separate them so the responsibility falls on the facility to carefully sort them out, which creates a higher cost for recycling. 

The bottom line, however is this: Only 27% of ALL plastic get recycled. The rest is in our oceans and landfills. So, regardless of whether its petroleum-based or plant-based, avoid using plastic whenever possible. 

  • Carry a reusable water bottle and fill it from a water fountain or faucet when you get thirsty. 
  • Reuse old newspapers and other paper products for packing material.
  • Avoid plastic straws; if you can't skip the straw completely, carry a re-usable glass straw.
  • In the kitchen, opt for glass or metal. This applies to dishes, storage containers, bakeware, etc.
If you have more information to share on this topic, or if you have questions, tips, etc., please share them in the comments section below! I love to hear what you have to say!

1 comment:

  1. What a waste of time! Just another greenwashed attempt at making money, honestly.