Bioplastics: The Next Big Thing?


Over 8 trillion kgs of plastics have been produced worldwide till date. This weight is equivalent to 115 billion adults, or 800 million Sajha buses, or 2.5 million Saturn V rockets (the rocket that took men to the moon for the first time), or 150 Great Walls of China! Knowing that once plastic is produced, it can never decompose (it turns into microplastics after many years of breaking down, read more about microplastics at: https://dokorecyclers.com/blog/plastics-on-your-skin-plastics-in-your-body-6) seems a lot scarier after you realize the sheer amount of plastic we have already produced. Plastic is everywhere, and our dependence on it is NOT sustainable. As a result, a potential alternative has been gaining popularity: bioplastics.

When you hear the name, you automatically feel less guilty; bioplastic sounds like a material that is environmentally friendly. So what is bioplastic? The name “bioplastic” refers to plastic-like materials made from plants or microorganisms instead of petroleum.

Currently, 9% of the oil globally available is being used to produce plastic. With bioplastics, the hope is to reduce that number drastically. A strong argument in support of bioplastics is the following: plastics release carbon when they are discarded and when breaking down. Bioplastics will release a significantly lower amount of carbon. The very organisms they were made from would have absorbed most of the carbon they release. However, this argument is not be enough to convince some.

In order to produce bioplastic, plants and microorganisms need to be grown at a large scale. Pollutants from fertilizers used for the growth of these plants, and the land being repurposed to grow the plants instead of food may be some issues that could arise. Another question is how much water and other resources would be required to grow enough plants to justify large-scale bioplastic production.

Say you have decided to switch to bioplastics. Once you have used your bioplastic bag, how do you dispose of it? The best solution is to send it to industrial composters. Bioplastics need to be heated at a high enough temperature for microbes to break it down. If it is not heated, it will behave similar to regular plastics in breaking down and turning into microplastics.

So should you use bioplastics?

As long as it is produced sustainably and in a small enough scale that the bioplastic production does not hinder the environment, bioplastics are a better alternative to regular plastics - as long as bioplastics are reused. In order to introduce bioplastics to the mainstream market, however, industrial composting facilities need to be introduced parallelly.

Find out more at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/11/are-bioplastics-made-from-plants-better-for-environment-ocean-plastic/

Pranav Rajouria,
Communications and Partnerships Coordinator