Green Wednesday: How Earth-Friendly Is Bioplastic?

From on September 24, 2008 in Green Remodeling

Compost Bottle

Bioplastics are a new generation of biodegradable and compostable plastics. They are derived from renewable raw materials like starch (from corn, potato, etc.), cellulose, soy protein, and lactic acid. Bioplastics are not hazardous in production and decompose back into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass when discarded. Corn starch is currently the main raw material being used in the manufacture of bioplastic resins.

While it may seem, at first glance, that bioplastics would be preferable to plastics made from petroleum, the technology to make them is still relatively new, and the benefits of the end products now being made from bioplastics are not as obvious as the name might imply.

EcoGeek recently featured an article questioning the feasibility of bioplastics. A few of the points raised for consideration were:

  • It’s not automatically recyclable. There are mitigating factors.
  • It only makes disposable products at present. For example, current technology has not yet made a transparent bioplastic that’s strong enough to hold water for longer than a few months.
  • It doesn’t compost as easily as many organic substances do; it requires high intensity, high heat commercial composting.

Another source, H2Biodegradable Products Ltd., states that some bioplastics are “used in the plastic processing industry for the production of foil, moulds, tins, cups, bottles, and other packaging… that it dissolves completely, without harming the environment, in a working landfill and does not leech into the drink potentially dangerous chemicals.” This company offers water bottles made of bioplastic, so clearly there is some difference of opinion among experts about what bioplastics do and don’t do.

One common objection to bioplastics is that they are most frequently made from corn and potatoes – in other words, food. In a world where population growth makes food production ever more important, diverting food products away from end use as food is questionable as a viable solution.

The bioplastics industry is one worth watching, as the desire for earth-friendly products continues to grow. At present, findings in favor of using bioplastics seem to be outweighed by reasons not to, at least for the sincerely eco-conscious consumer.

photo credit: Wild Green Yonder