Asia Automotive

Chinese Press Goes Bioplastics

About 60 per cent of all bioplastics made today are not biodegradable. Plastic production set to more than triple by 2050

It’s hard to imagine a world without plastics. The ubiquitous material is not going away any time soon. A 2016 World Economic Forum study forecast that overall plastics production would rise from 311 million tonnes per year to over 1.1 billion tonnes by 2050, and that the industry’s share of oil consumption would rise from 6 per cent to 20 per cent.

But they are a curse as pollutants because they linger in the environment for centuries. Worse, they break down into microparticles without actually biodegrading. These microparticles can wind up in soil and water, ultimately contaminating the food we eat.

Bioplastics, which are made from plant material, are touted as a possible solution to the plastics problem. China produces about a third of plastic waste polluting the world’s oceans, says report. Bioplastics therefore may grow in popularity to reduce oil dependency, as much as to find a solution to waste.

However, not all bioplastics are biodegradable. About 60 per cent of all bioplastics made today are not biodegradable. A biobased version of PET – the plastic compound used to make plastic bottles – accounts for over 40 per cent of all bioplastic production and is not biodegradable.

Also, bioplastics actually predate petroleum-based plastics.

Henry Ford with the plastic-bodied “Soybean Car” at its unveiling on August 13, 1941.Henry Ford with the plastic-bodied “Soybean Car” at its unveiling on August 13, 1941. Photo: Handout

It’s hard to imagine a world without plastics. The ubiquitous material is not going away any time soon.

A 2016 World Economic Forum study forecast that overall plastics production would rise from 311 million tonnes per year to over 1.1 billion tonnes by 2050, and that the industry’s share of oil consumption would rise from 6 per cent to 20 per cent.

But they are a curse as pollutants because they linger in the environment for centuries. Worse, they break down into microparticles without actually biodegrading. These microparticles can wind up in soil and water, ultimately contaminating the food we eat.

Bioplastics, which are made from plant material, are touted as a possible solution to the plastics problem.

China produces about a third of plastic waste polluting the world’s oceans, says report

Bioplastics therefore may grow in popularity to reduce oil dependency, as much as to find a solution to waste.

However, not all bioplastics are biodegradable. About 60 per cent of all bioplastics made today are not biodegradable. A biobased version of PET – the plastic compound used to make plastic bottles – accounts for over 40 per cent of all bioplastic production and is not biodegradable.

In the 1930s, Henry Ford wanted to use a plastic made from soybeans to create lightweight parts for his cars to deal with steel shortages and get better mileage. Ford reportedly saw a link between farming and industry that he wanted to exploit. In 1941, his “soybean car” was showcased to the world, though production was stopped due to the onset of the second world war.

The most common form of biodegradable bioplastic today is polylactide acid (PLA), which is made from corn or sugar.

PLA’s main application is in packaging for single use or in plastic bags. PLA constitutes about 10 per cent of overall bioplastic production – about 240,000 tonnes per year.

However, being biodegradable does not mean that a bioplastic will simply break down if thrown into landfills. Often, it takes specialised composting facilities for bioplastics to break down, and that requires sophisticated waste collection infrastructure to sort plastics properly. That is the same kind of infrastructure needed to recycle plastic waste.

Supporters, however, argue that bioplastics, biodegradable or not, are made from plant material and therefore lower carbon emissions.

REFS

This article was published on www.scmp.com and written by Ryan Swift .