It is here where the concept of bioplastics enters. Bioplastics generally fall into two categories: plastic polymers made from biological sources such as food, food waste and plants, or plastics made from materials that can be degraded by microbes into less harmful substances.
Proponents of bioplastics tout the fact that these plastics are not made from fossil fuels, therefore their production has a smaller carbon footprint. Project Drawdown estimates that over a period of thirty years, the use of bioplastics would prevent the release of 0.96-3.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A
lso, the sources of these bioplastics range from plant cellulose and chitin polymer (found in fungi and exoskeletons of crustaceans) to potatoes, trees, algae, and sugarcane polymers.
Thus, when these plastics are burned or are broken down over time, they are releasing back into the environment only the carbon which the plants or animals took up during their lifetimes.
Finally, bioplastics are made from renewable raw materials instead of fossil fuels; thus they may provide a long-term alternative to our current source of plastics.
However, several concerns have been raised concerning bioplastics, reminding us not to hide behind pretty green labels. Firstly, many bioplastics are not biodegradable, so they sit in our landfills just as long as ordinary plastics.
Furthermore, environmentalists argue that using land to grow plants for the production of bioplastics may harm the environment because bioplastic production requires an increase in the use of water, pesticides and fertilizer—not to mention, in a world where millions go hungry each day, there are ethical concerns around using food to make plastics instead of for eating.
I believe we are heading in the right direction by banning single-use plastics; however, bioplastics as a wholesale replacement is not a panacea.
To address the growing problem of plastic waste, we need more comprehensive recycling programs in our cities. We need to encourage and facilitate a reduction in the reliance on single-use plastics.
And finally, we need more sustainably produced and easily eliminated bioplastics to slow the ongoing pollution of our precious environment.
Published on thestrand.ca