Bioplastics are plastic materials produced from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable fats and oils. They can also be made from agricultural by-products and also from used plastic bottles and other containers using microorganisms. They are seen as an alternative to the plastic which stands out as one of the most important roadblocks in containing Environment pollution.
Need of Bioplastics
To understand the need of bioplastic as an alternative to plastic, we have to first understand the adverse effect of plastic pollution on the environment and human health. Some of these effects are :
•With the rise of per capita plastic consumption giobally at 28 per kg, the modern cities all over the world is surrounded by debris of plastic waste emitting poisonous Greenhouse gases (GHGs) and choking the drainage basin.
• Studies estimate there are now 15-51 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans. Thousands of seabirds and sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals are killed each year after ingesting plastic or getting entangled in it.
• Plastic is a non-biodegradable product which takes thousands of years to degrade naturally. In the meantime, they are broken into microplastics
which are consumed by us through sea food, foods packaged by plastics and plastic water bottles.
• Plastics are detrimental to environment and human health because of the chemicals, which are used in its production process. For instance, additive such as BPA, Plasticizers and Flame Retardant used in its manufacturing process are hazardous to human as well as environment health.
So, to tackle the effects caused by plastic pollution, there is need for its alternative which offers some of its beneficial features such as durability, strength and easiness of production and use without jeopardizing the environment. In this context, bioplastic has come out as its viable alternative.
Bioplastics and their Types
Bioplastic is a fast evolving scientific field because of which it is always expanding as new materials are discovered. The most common bio-based plastics include:
• Starch-Based Bioplastics Simple bioplastic derived from corn rn starch. They are often mixed with biodegradable polyesters.
• Cellulose-Based Bioplastics It is produced using cellulose esters and cellulose derivatives.
• Protein-Based Bioplastics It is produced using protein sources such as wheat gluten, casein and milk.
• Aliphatic Polyesters A collection of biobased polyesters including PHB(poly-3-hydroxybutyrate), PHA (polyhydroxy alkenoates), PHV (polyhydroxy valerate) among others. They are all more or less sensitive to hydrolyt degradation and can be mixed with other compounds.
• Organic Polyethylene Polyethylene that has been produced from the fermentation of raw agricultural materials like sugarcane and corn, rather than fossil fuels.
Utility of Bioplastics Across Different Sectors
Bioplastics are helping to reduce the impact of plastic waste on the environment and are being used in applications such as thermoformed coffee cup lids, injection moulded disposable cutlery and plates along with food containers of all shapes and sizes.
Bioplastic is most useful in packaging of different types of products. It provide an alternative approach to packaging and are a real solution to the need for a reduction in conventional plastic use and waste. Bioplastics packaging options include bags for compost, agricultural foils, horticultural products, nursery products, toys and textiles. The development of sophisticated bioplastic packaging for food products has greatly improved the shelf life of the food.
Bioplastics provide the electronic industry with an excellent opportunity to improve their environmental credentials as they can be injection moulded with similar characteristics to traditional plastics without modifying any machinery. The electronics industry has made big strides in tackling its environmental impact, largely through producing more energy efficient devices by bioplastics. Electrical product casings, circuit boards and data storage are all traditionally made from oil-derived plastics.
has many uses in the medical sector also. Non-toxic biodegradable sutures, commonly referred to as stitches, are now being used by medical in hospitals and surgeries. They are easy to sterilise, robust and remain n place until the tissue has healed at which time they are dissolved by the body eaving no marks behind.
Biodegradable plastics are also being used for medical devices. For example, pins, tacks and screws which are used to help bones heal and during reconstructive surgery are being produced with bioplastics.
The cosmetics industry is another big producer of packaging for its products. Many of these products have a short life span and once disposed of, they end up in landfills. It is no wonder that brands are starting to look towards alternatives and bioplastic enables different brands to satisfy this requirement without impacting on product quality.
Advantages of Bioplastics
Bioplastics are rightly mentioned as an alternative to traditional plastics due to several eco-friendly benefits attached to it. Some of the advantages are as follows:
•Bioplastics are made from plants’ raw materials unlike conventional plastics which uses petroleum oil which is limited and finite resource. Therefore, bioplastics are an infinite source.
• The carbon footprint of manufacturing bioplastics is reportedly 75 per cent lower than that of their alternatives. According to a study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in America, plastics leach estrogen like chemicals into food, this makes bioplastics a safer and healthier alternative
•Bioplastics can be recycled, they can be cleanly incinerated and industrially composted. This makes bioplasties a great material for food packaging as used packaging does not require cleaning since food and packaging can be composted or incinerated together. An additional benefit of composting is that nutrients from food waste are returned to soil to nurture new plants, improving soil fertility and food security. .
• The best understood advantage of biodegradable bioplastics lies in the reduction of permanent litter. Single use plastic shopping bags are most obvious example of how plastics can pollute the environment with huge garbage
• Other advantages of bioplastics include lesser energy consumption while in manufacturing process, improved income for farmers who produce plant based raw materials for bioplastic and environmentally sustainable way to do business.
Disadvantages of Bioplastics
However, bioplastics are not panacea at all , they also come with their own sets of limitations and repercussions. Some of the disadvantages of bioplastics are given below:
•Most bioplastics produced globally are made from the byproducts of food crops, which are expensive. The reliance on food crops presents a key challenge for bioplasties, because these crops are simply not a cost-competitive alternative to fossil fuels as of now.
• Various researches revealed that bioplastics production resulted in greater amounts of pollutants, due to the fertilizers and pesticides used in growing the crops and the chemical processing needed to turn organic material into plastic.
•Bioplastic production requires extensive land use which is another drawback posed by it
•Bioplastics are also relatively expensive, PLA (Polylactic Acid) can be 20 to 50% more costly than comparable materials because of the complex process used to convert corn or sugarcane into the building blocks for PLA. However, prices are coming down as researchers and companies develop more efficient and eco-friendly strategies for producing bioplastics.
•Most of the bioplastic wecycling processes require industrial composting facilities to be disposed of but most cities lack an adequate number of such facilities
In recent years, bioplastics have been promoted as potential alternatives to traditional plastic products. Bioplastics can greatly reduce our dependence on fossil resources which are significantly more harmful to the environment than bioplastics. So, it’s no surprise that one can expect to see a surge in the production and use of bioplastics in the coming years.