Is bioplastic really a better solution to the single-use plastic pollution problem?
Updated: Apr 18, 2020
Addressing the problem
The share of packaging plastic in all plastic production is about 40%. About half of this amount is used in food packaging and other commodity applications which is largely dominated by petrochemical-derived plastics.
Upon disposal, packaging plastic typically degrades very slowly and do not meet increasing demands in society for sustainability and environmental safety.
Plastic produced from biopolymers evokes commercial interests worldwide as it is manufactured from renewable resources and has the potential to meet environmental and health requirements. However, wider use of nascent bioplastic in applications like food packaging, medical use and possible engineering applications requires technological development and public awareness.
What are the options?
Recycling & Incineration is one of the effective options.
Government and organizations are making efforts to increase the recycling of plastics, as it does not harm the plastic industry and comparatively easy to solve the plastic waste problem. But, the facts and figures are making them anxious and so to us.
As per a study on the ‘Production, use and fate of all plastics ever made’ by industrial ecologist, Roland Geyer,
9% of total plastic have been recycled appropriately and 12% of total plastic has been incinerated in the adequate incineration facility. Almost 79% of total plastics have been ended up in the landfill or Ocean.
Where the dilemma of plastic incineration is also an issue in terms of environmental hazards. Recycling has also the limitations of downcycling each time; in other words, every recycle degrades plastic quality and after a few recycles, it losses its recycling capability completely.
The following image shows how all the developing countries are handling their plastic waste.
[Source of the image: Grida / Jambeck]
These facts and figures show that we are far away from solving the plastic waste problem with recycling and incineration. Same time, it does not mean that we should not make efforts to expand the recycling portfolio. But, this world needs more options to cope up with the terrible situation.
The options could be an adequate use of bioplastics in relevant applications, lesser use of single-use plastics, reuse of plastic products, proper waste handling system, development of composting facilities, upgrdation in incineration technology, etc.
The plastic waste directly influences the ecology and human health. We need to understand that a single solution to this huge plastic problem is not possible and we need to respect each possible solution and innovate them further to mature it to a considerable scale. It is not the time to criticize a solution and praise another one, it is a time to invest in every possible solution.
As we all know that the presence of plastic in human life is the way significant that we can not afford to stop using it. Similarly, the amount of plastic in the world is the way gigantic that a single solution can never be enough.
How bioplastics can be one of the solutions to the plastic pollution problem?
The first basic advantage is to reduce the stress on petrochemical reserves and prospering the agriculture sector. Moreover, instead of depending on giant petrochemical companies, the farmers will get prosperous and help in boosting the economy of the country.
Here, Thailand can be taken as a good example of promoting bio-based industries to boost the economy. The statement of Thailand's board of investment, “Thailand is attracting billions of baht of investments in bioplastics from global and local players, seizing the opportunities the country offers as a production hub for bio-based industries due to its abundant raw materials, existing value chain and supportive government policies.”
By considering the proper handling system, the bioplastic will biodegrade completely and goes back to nature in a short span of time comparatively by creating a circular economy.
So, the plastic waste problem will not occur here and if it was handled poorly after the use, it is definitely going to biodegrade in a slightly longer span of time. In addition, recycling of bioplastic is also possible. When recycling is not possible, it goes back to nature by biodegradation.
In conclusion, bioplastic has inherent advantages over petrochemical-derived plastic to cope up with the plastic waste problem. Same time, it can never be enough as an only solution. I am sure that bioplastic will have an enormous footprint in the plastic industry in the nearer future. Let’s prefer bioplastic and/or recyclable products in our life as much as possible to keep our planet healthy for our future generations.