Plastic first started being mass-produced in the 60s and 70s and has since become ubiquitous. In fact, it’s estimated that each year, more than 80 million metric tons of plastic are used in the US annually. Traditionally, plastics are made from the non-renewable resource of fossil fuels.
With the detrimental effects of fossil fuel use widely known, many brands are looking to make the switch to more sustainable alternatives. Enter bioplastics.
What are bioplastics?
Bioplastic is plastic that’s made from a plant-based material. It can be made by converting the sugars extracted from plants such as sugarcane into polylactic acids (PLAs). Alternatively, it can be made from polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), which are engineered from microorganisms.
It’s important to note that, despite the prefix of the word being “bio”, bioplastics are not necessarily biodegradable. Instead, it might mean that they could break down, given the conditions are right. For instance, for PLAs to break down, they should be disposed of in a specialist composting facility where the right conditions can be engineered. Unfortunately, such facilities are not yet widespread.
The prefix “bio” also doesn’t mean they’re 100% made from plant-based materials. They might be partly made from materials derived from organic matter.
The benefits of bioplastics
Now that we’re clear on what bioplastics are let’s take a closer look at their environmental impact. Compared to traditional plastics, bioplastics produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions over the course of their lifetime. In fact, a study conducted in 2017 stated that switching to corn-based PLA from traditional plastic would cut US greenhouse gas emissions by 25%.
Additionally, the CO2 that bioplastics produce when they break down is the same amount that they absorb when they grow, meaning there’s no net increase in carbon dioxide production.
Another benefit of using bioplastics is that it means less oil is used. The process of drilling for oil alone has a negative impact, as it disturbs land and marine ecosystems. Furthermore, oil spills, such as the infamous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, have a devastating impact on marine life. The incident in 2010 killed thousands of marine mammals and sea turtles.
Finally, bioplastics are better for your brand image than traditional plastics. By using bioplastic-based packaging solutions, you’re signaling to your consumer base that you’re pursuing more sustainable alternatives. In a world that’s increasingly concerned with sustainability, making the switch to bioplastics could very well mean a boost to your bottom line.