A blog and information source for sustainable choices in business.
Sugarcane plastic is made by crushing sugarcane to release the sugar within, which can be converted into ethanol and then into a plant-based polyethylene with little to no need for petroleum at all for the material. This, like creating traditional plastics, requires energy. However, because the sugarcane plant absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it counterbalances this production and is in most cases actually carbon neutral.
Potato plastic is made from the starch of potatoes and water under high pressure and heat. Unfortunately, this material alone isn’t practical for most products. Therefore, it is often blended into other bio-based or even petroleum based plastics at ratios that companies don’t generally like to reveal.
More issues with potato based plastic are evident with many other plant-based plastics in the need for fertilizer, large amounts of water, and often pesticides for a strong yield. There is also controversy around the usage of farmland for plastic instead of food.
RECYCLED PLASTIC SOLUTIONS
Ocean plastic pollution is a large global issue and it is becoming worse each and every year. According to the IUCN, about 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans every year. This is an alarming number and the idea of harvesting and recycling this plastic into usable products sounds like a viable solution. Unfortunately, companies touting their recycled ocean plastic products often are only using a very small percentage of recycled ocean plastic mixed within virgin plastic polymers.
One reason for this is because plastic cannot be infinitely recycled. Plastic does degrade with each lifecycle and while this is part of what we'd like plastic to do, the rate at which it does is still far too slow and the material becomes unusable at a certain point.
WHY NOT HEMP?
Often said to be the ultimate solution to single-use plastics, the potential of hemp is sometimes misconstrued in good faith by cannabis activists and advocates in an effort to destigmatize both the cannabis and hemp plants. Although there are notable benefits of hemp, the same properties can be found in corn and soybean plants in similar levels at a lower cost.
At the moment, corn and soy represent the bulk of the bioplastic market, with corn being the primary crop that provides the cellulose and oils necessary for these bioplastics. Both corn and soy are heavily subsidized in the U.S., creating massive production possibilities at artificially low prices.
While these two crops pose their own problems (they require fertilizers and pesticides that often aren't great for the environment), hemp would have these hurdles as well if put in the same situation. On top of that, hemp in particular requires a significant amount of water to grow.
Are all Plant-Based Plastics the Same?
No! There are many different types of plant-based plastics that have their own unique properties; from how they are created to their final composition. These properties all affect their uses and overall impact on the environment.
What are Plant-Based Plastics?
Plant-based plastics simply refer to plastic made from plants or other biological material instead of petroleum. These plastics are also known as bioplastics or bio-based plastic.
What is Recycled Ocean Plastic?
The name says it all. The idea of recycled ocean plastic products is taking the plastic pollution that has accrued in our oceans and recycled into new materials.
Why isn't recycled Ocean Plastic more Popular?
There are many concerns with the viability of ocean plastic for practical uses. Because of the degradation the ocean causes to plastic, much of it becomes unsuitable for recycling. This is due to the toxins within plastic as well as toxins accrued from the ocean itself.
What is Hemp Plastic?
Materials somewhat derived from the hemp plant. There are many different types of hemp plastics such as hemp cellulose, cellophane, and composite hemp plastic. These can all widely vary in their properties as well.
Why isn't Hemp Plastic More Popular
Hemp plastic has been used for many years. Issues with hemp are similar to other plant-based plastics: it is more expensive than traditional plastics, creates problems with biodiversity, and isn't as practical as traditional plastics. Hemp plastic is often more rigid and not as flexible.
COMPOSTABLE VS. BIODEGRADABLE
According to the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), biodegradables are anything that undergoes degradation, resulting from the action of naturally occurring microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and algae. Although quickly is not defined, biodegradable products are broken down in way less time than non-biodegradable products such as traditional plastic.
Some biodegradable plastics are also compostable, meaning they can be turned into compost and used to benefit your garden or the soil around us. Plastics labeled compostable can sometimes be composted at home but more often than not, need to be sent to a commercial or industrial compost facility to properly break down.
Strict laws regulate the marketing and labeling of degradable plastic products sold in California, including those claimed to be “compostable” or “biodegradable.” Environmental marketing claims, whether explicit or implied, must be substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence and meet specified standards to prevent misleading consumers about the environmental impact of degradable plastic products, including bags, food service ware, and packaging.
Bioplastics based on natural materials like starch, or synthetic biomaterials like polylactic acid, have shown inadequate durability, biocompatibility, or biodegradability in many cases. They also often require complex, energy-intensive processing methods and toxic chemicals. As technology progresses, biodegradable plastics are inching towards becoming more viable for mass production.
What's the difference between Biodegradable and Compostable?
According to the ASTM, many substances are biodegradable and will break down in various amounts of time. This can sometimes release toxic substances into the atmosphere. Compostable substances are biodegradable and release beneficial substances into the soil. Compostable substances will only break down in a timely manner within a compost environment.
How long Do Biodegradable Plastics Take to Biodegrade?
It depends on a number of factors. Technically speaking, most plastic degrades over time. The amount of time it takes for certain plant-based plastics can take from months to years, depending on the environment the plastic is placed in. A "biodegradable" container can take years to decompose if put into a landfill.
What does Industrially Composted Mean?
According to EcoEnclose.com: Items labeled as certified industrially compostable means they have passed a certification (likely BPI). These items often require the controlled temperature and pressure environment of a composting facility to biodegrade, so they often do not biodegrade in a home compost environment.
What happens when PlA biodegrades?
When PLA plastic decomposes, it releases the carbon dioxide, used to create it, back into the atmosphere.
Where Are Industrial Compost Facilities Near me?
Sites such as FindAComposter.com are great for finding facilities. However, in the United States they can be scarce and often cost money to utilize.
Will bioplastics biodegrade in the ocean
Some bioplastics are capable of biodegrading within months in the ocean. However, many biodegradable plastics such as PLA will act similarly to traditional plastics within the ocean.
According to the World Economic Forum, about 4-8% of annual global oil consumption is associated with plastics and if our reliance on fossil fuel-based plastics remains, plastics will account for 20% of oil consumption by the year 2050. The problem with plastics begins with the mess of extracting fossil fuels from the earth.
Oil, gas, and coal are all required to create these plastics and the fracking process is a devastating one. It involves drilling on and offshore, pipelines, and more. Extraction and transportation of these fossil fuels is a very carbon-intensive process.
According to EthicalConsumer.org, “Greenwashing is used to describe the practice of companies launching adverts, campaigns, products, etc. under the pretense that they are environmentally beneficial, often in contradiction to their environmental and sustainability record in general.“
With more consumers looking for environmentally friendly and socially conscious products and companies, greenwashing has also increased in recent years.
According to Climate.NASA, “Global climate change has already had observable effects on the environment. Glaciers have shrunk, ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier, plant and animal ranges have shifted and trees are flowering sooner.” These effects happening now were predicted years ago by climate change scientists.
Now, scientists are predicting that depending on our emissions of heat-trapping gasses, even greater effects are to come in the future. Temperatures will continue to rise, storms and droughts will increase, and hurricanes will become stronger than ever, are just a few of these predictions.