Plastic is so well known for being lightweight, durable, flexible and inexpensive to produce that it has led to a widespread usage across both the developing and developing worlds. Because of their plasticity property, it is possible for plastic to be either moulded, pressed or extruded. This property makes plastic much more versatile and hence can be used in different forms and for different functions. We have become so dependent on plastics that today every step of our lives involves plastic in some shape.
This widespread use of plastic is leading to various problems to our planet. Every plastic material takes approximately 350 - 1000 years to decompose. Unfortunately there are few types of plastic that don't decompose at all. Sometimes they can live beyond a thousand years too.
Let us list out a few more problems caused by plastic,
- Many plastics that are broken down into pieces, end up in the oceans. Aquatic animals consume them with or without knowledge and get choked.
- The study says 1 out 3 birds pickup plastic thinking it’s a piece of food and have plastic pieces in their stomach.
- Plastic used in baby diapers or women’s sanitary napkins is hazardous to the health. They are poisonous and create imbalances in the skin health.
- Plastics used for food packaging leads to slow cancer.
- Plastics used for packaging products end up in landfills and decrease the fertility of soil.
Well, the disadvantages keep going on and on. Even though some plastics can be recycled, the recycling process is very expensive and it releases some toxic gases which pollutes our environment. And the sad part is that out of 150 billion tons of plastic, only 9% of it can be recycled.
Does a solution even exist? Yes, a few environmental workers have brought in wonderful materials as a solution to plastic. The look and feel has plastic features but different in their properties. From nature to, to nature.
Bioplastics are produced by the biomass sources that are easily available in nature like corn starch, woodchips, sawdust, vegetable oils/fats and recycled food waste. These bio plastics are easily biodegradable in nature under the right set of conditions.
- Biodegradable: Bioplastics are broken down by microorganisms like fungi, bacteria, algae into CO2(carbon dioxide), CH₄(Methane), biomass and some inorganic compounds. It takes a few months to biodegrade, based on the weather conditions and the place in which it is left for degradation.
- Compostable: Even here the bioplastics are broken down by microorganisms and decompose into very rich nutrient biomass in a span of 3-5 months leaving behind no toxins or chemical residue.
When natural biomass and technology meet together, many kinds of bioplastics are produced.
- Cellulose based - these are highly resistant to water and have enhanced mechanical properties when cellulose is added to the starch to create biopolymer. These bioplastics are basically created with cellulose esters and derivatives made from cellulose.
- Starch Based - starch is the most widely used raw material to make bioplastics. Starch based bioplastics are made out of potato starch or cornstarch. Starch derived from these biomass is mixed with some biodegradable polyesters to enhance bioplastic properties.
- Protein based - casein, milk, soy protein, wheat gluten are some of the rich protein sources in making of bioplastics.
- Bio derived polyethylene - known as polyethylene (PE), are produced by fermenting some raw materials from agricultural produce like sugar cane, corn, etc.
- Aliphatic polyesters - PLA, PHA, PHB, PHV, PHH, PA11 are collectives known as aliphatic polymers PLA - Polylactic acid
PLA - Polylactic acid
PHA - Polyhydroxyalkanoates
PHB - Poly-3-hydroxybutyrate
PHV - Polyhydroxyvalerate
PLA - Polylactic acid
PHH - Polyhydroxyhexanoate
- PA11 - Polyamide 11
These bioplastics are the best solutions for plastic. Bioplastics can be used for making cutleries, containers, packaging materials and more.
It is just that these kinds of plastics are quite a procedure to produce and not as cost effective as plastic. As responsible citizens we should start choosing bioplastics at very high volume and try to set more bioplastic production units and bring down the cost where everyone of us can afford to use bioplastics.