Modern manufacturing techniques have made the environment-friendly bioplastic easier and more affordable to produce, prompting many more companies to lend their support to bioplastic production. But while many have become part of the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance, the association of manufacturers and corporations that have pledged to support the use of bioplastics, recent reports show that still, a number of them are in the list of top single-use plastic producers in the world.
The problem with plastics has become so globally pervasive that National Geographic Magazine has launched a multi-year initiative called “Planet or Plastic” The June 2018 cover of the hundred-year-old magazine depicts the magnitude of plastics’ (especially single-use ones) effect on a planetary scale.
A UK-government report found 70% of trash found in the oceans are non-biodegradable, single-use plastic. That number is feared to increase three times by 2025.
But how can the world solve the problem in developing countries where a “sachet” economy persists and tetra packs dominate the grocery aisles, and supermarket vendors prefer plastic bags as the container of choice? Can we blame them for opting for the cheaper single-use plastic instead of the more environment-friendly but costlier alternatives?
According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, bioplastics come from renewable materials, making them biodegradable. Bioplastics are processed or synthesized using microbes or bacteria, or even genetically modified plants such as corn and sugarcane.
On the other hand, the single-use, destructive plastics littering our planet are made of petroleum, and can linger on for hundreds of years.
French researcher Maurice Lemoigne is said to have discovered bioplastic in 1926 while working on a project using the bacterium Bacillus megaterium. At the time, however, petroleum-based plastics were more affordable to mass produce than the polyhydroxybutyrate used to make bioplastics.
This year, home appliance manufacturer Electrolux developed a refrigerator prototype that replaces all plastic parts with bioplastics. It said that “the bioplastic for the refrigerator has more than 80% lower carbon footprint compared to the conventional plastics used today.”
Electrolux Global Connectivity and Technology Center has been experimenting on how it can incorporate more sustainable materials into its products, taking into consideration that technology waste has also been increasing because the lifespan of gadgets and appliances has become much shorter than before, creating more garbage in the process.
The bioplastic refrigerator prototype, thus, is the result of the concerted efforts of the company’s technology center and Electrolux Purchasing and research and development departments for food preservation.
The bioplastics used in the refrigerator come from NatureWorks, a supplier of biopolymers.
Bioplastics are 100% degradable and as sturdy as their non-biodegradable equivalents.
Before developing the bioplastic refrigerator prototype, the company has been using “post-consumer recycled plastics, such as Carborec, a plastic compound based on recycled polypropylene, extending the lifetime of plastic coming from non-renewable resources.”
The bioplastic refrigerator, however, is not yet commerically available, and no time frame has been set for its release.
According to European Bioplastics, only 1% of 320 million tons of plastic produced every year is bioplastic. But as the awareness of the destructive potential of single-use plastics grows, the demand for bioplastics is expected to increase, and so will its production–from around 2.05 million tons in 2017 to about 2.44 million tons by 2022.