Bioplastics Chronicles

National Geographic Published an Article on Bioplastics

Here's a summary of the article published by National Geographic on bioplastics

The article provides some facts on plastics:

  • 18 trillion pounds of plastic have been produced to date;
  • 18 billion pounds of plastic flows into the ocean every year;
  • plastic is found in fish, animals and humans;
  • eight % of the world’s oil is used to make plastic.

Is bioplastics an alternative?

Is bioplastic the panacea for our environmental woes? An easy-to-use single-use item that feels like plastic minus the guilt?

What is bioplastic?

Bioplastic simply refers to plastic made from plant or other biological material instead of petroleum. It is also often called bio-based plastic.

  • polylactic acids (PLAs) found in plants like corn and sugarcane is commonly used in food packaging. It often comes from large industrial facilities producing ethanol and is thus the cheapest source of bioplastic.
  • polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) engineered from microorganisms, commonly used in medical devices like sutures and cardiovascular patches.

Ramani Narayan, chemical engineer from Michigan State University said:

“The argument [for bio-based plastics] is the inherent value of reducing the carbon footprint.”

Proponents of bioplastic believe plastic item will releases new carbon to the atmosphere when they’re discarded while bioplastics simply returns the carbon the plants sucked up while growing. However, bioplastics generates pollution from fertilizers and land diverted from food production (food vs fuel debate).

Environmental engineer and National Geographic explorer Jenna Jambeck said:

“Where is it grown? How much land does it take up? How much water is needed. Whether bio-based plastics are ultimately better for the environment than oil-derived ones is a big question based on many ‘ifs. In other words, there’s no clear answer at present. If PLA does leak out, it also will not biodegrade in the ocean, It’s really not any different from those industrial polymers. It can be composted in an industrial facility, but if the town doesn’t have one, then it’s not any different.”

What happens when we’re done with it?

Sent to a landfill, recycled or sent to an industrial compost site. But bioplastics won’t degrade on their own in a meaningful timeframe. If they end up in marine environments, they’ll break down into micro-sized pieces.

CLOSING REMARKS

  • Did National Geographic tried to discredit bioplastics?
  • National Geographic (NG) is the magazine of the National Geographic Society. First  published in 1888 to cover science, geography, history, and world culture. Today, it has 40 local/ language editions and a monthly circulation of around 6.5 million (12 mln in the 80s).
  • NG has been accused of photo fraud, using unauthentic and forged objects, racism, corruption, employee harassment, etc.
  • Do you think NG has the same quality and independence today as it had in the past? 21st Century Fox controls the magazine since 2015….yeah…Rupert Murdoch.
  • “I told my wife I would rather see National Geographic [magazine] die an honorable death than be swept into something it’s not supposed to be” said Veteran NatGeo marine photographer Brian Skerry in 2015 on the acquisition by 21 Century fox.
  • Do you think big plastics and big oil companies may try to discredit plant-based plastics?
  • Do you think big plastics and big oil have an interest in defining bioplastics as bio-based and “biodegradable” … including “biodegradable” would enable petrol-based plastics to surf on the bioplastics wave?
  • When they bring up the “food vs fuel” argument to discredit bio-based plastics … do they mention what oil exploitation does to the environment? Do they mention the wars fought for oil fields?

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