In recent years, there has been a growing concern about the environmental impact of traditional plastics. A study by the Ocean Conservancy found that four of the top five most common types of litter found on beaches are all related to takeout packaging: food wrappers, plastic bottles, plastic bottle caps, and plastic grocery bags. One solution that has gained popularity is the use of bioplastics. In this post we go in-depth on what bioplastics are, how they compare to traditional plastics, and if they're safe.
What are bioplastics?
Bioplastics are a type of plastic that are made from renewable resources such as plant starches, vegetable oils, or even bacteria. They are a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional plastics because they can be commercially composted back to natural materials and have a lower carbon footprint.
Bioplastics come in a variety of forms, including compostable plastics, biodegradable plastics, and bio-based plastics. Compostable plastics are made from renewable resources and are designed to break down quickly back into natural materials much like a compost heap. Biodegradable plastics can break down into smaller pieces through natural processes, but typically take longer to break down than compostable plastics. Bio-based plastics are made from renewable resources and can be either biodegradable or non-biodegradable.
Types of bioplastics
- PLA (Polylactic Acid) Polylactic acid, also known as PLA, is a biodegradable polymer that is derived from renewable resources like cornstarch or sugar cane. It is commonly used in food packaging, disposable tableware, and 3D printing. PLA is compostable and breaks down into carbon dioxide and water, typically within only a couple months, when composted at municipal or commercial composting facilities. We don't recommend putting them in your compost pile because it may take them much longer to break down in natural conditions.
- Polyhydroxyalkanoates, or PHA, are a group of biodegradable polymers that are produced by bacteria using renewable resources like plant oils or sugars. PHA has similar properties to traditional plastics and can be used in a wide range of products such as packaging, medical devices, and agriculture. PHA is biodegradable and can break down in a variety of environments, including soil, freshwater, and marine ecosystems.
- Starch-based bioplastics are made from renewable resources like corn, wheat, or potatoes. They are commonly used in food packaging and disposable tableware. Starch-based bioplastics are biodegradable and can break down into natural substances like carbon dioxide and water.
- Cellulose-based bioplastics are made from renewable resources like wood pulp, cotton, or hemp. They are commonly used in food packaging, textiles, and medical devices. Cellulose-based bioplastics are compostable and can break down into natural substances like carbon dioxide and water.
- Bio-based PET is made from renewable resources like plant sugars and is used in products such as bottles and packaging. Bio-based PET has similar properties to traditional PET but is more environmentally friendly as it reduces the use of fossil fuels.
- Bio-based PE is made from renewable resources like sugarcane or corn and is commonly used in products such as bags, packaging, and toys. Bio-based PE has similar properties to traditional PE but is more environmentally friendly as it reduces the use of fossil fuels.
How do bioplastics compare to traditional plastics?
One of the main benefits of bioplastics is their reduced environmental impact compared to traditional plastics. Since bioplastics are made from renewable materials the environment naturally replaces the materials taken over time. And since they are biodegradable and compostable they can break down into natural substances which puts less stress on the environment after they're disposed of. Traditional plastics, on the other hand, are made from non-renewable materials like oil and do not break down easily in the environment. This means they can persist in the environment for hundreds of years, causing pollution and harm to wildlife.
The production process of bioplastics is generally considered to be more sustainable than that of traditional plastics. Bioplastics require less energy to produce than the plastic we're used to. This significantly reduces their carbon footprint. The production of bioplastics also generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the production of traditional plastics. However, it is worth noting that the production of bioplastics still requires significant resources and energy, and the use of genetically modified crops can have unintended environmental consequences.
One concern about bioplastics is their performance compared to traditional plastics. Bioplastics tend to be more brittle and less durable than traditional plastics, which can affect their suitability for certain products. However, advances in bioplastic technology have led to the development of bioplastics that have comparable performance to traditional plastics. For example, bio-based PET has similar properties to traditional PET but is more environmentally friendly.
Overall, bioplastics offer a more sustainable alternative to traditional plastics. Bioplastics are made from renewable resources, are biodegradable or compostable, and require less energy to produce than traditional plastics. While there are concerns about their performance and the environmental impact of their production process, advances in bioplastic technology are addressing these issues. As the demand for sustainable products continues to grow, bioplastics will likely play an important role in creating a more sustainable future.
Are bioplastics safe for humans?
Bioplastics are considered safe for humans. They are non-toxic and do not contain any harmful chemicals, such as bisphenol A (BPA) or phthalates, which are found in many traditional plastics. The Bioplastics that are used in food packaging, such as disposable cups and utensils have been tested for food safety. All of our products that contain bioplastics have been approved by the FDA for use with food, and we have additional certifications on many of them for compostability.
However, it's important to note that not all bioplastics are created equal. Some bioplastics may contain additives or other materials that can be harmful to humans. It's important to look for bioplastics that have been certified as safe for use and to follow any instructions or guidelines for their use.
Are bioplastics safe for the environment?
Bioplastics are designed to be more environmentally friendly than traditional plastics, as they are made from renewable resources and can break down into natural materials over time. However, there is some debate about the environmental impact of bioplastics.
Some bioplastics are designed to biodegrade quickly in industrial composting facilities, which have specific conditions and processes for breaking down organic materials. If bioplastics are not disposed of properly, they may not break down as quickly in the environment and can still contribute to pollution. Additionally, some types of bioplastics may release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, when they break down.
Overall, bioplastics are a more sustainable option than traditional plastics, but it's important to dispose of them properly and choose bioplastics that have been certified as biodegradable or compostable.
Are bioplastics safe for animals?
Bioplastics are generally considered safe for animals, as they do not contain any harmful chemicals and can break down into natural materials over time. However, it's important to remember that any kind of plastic, including bioplastics, can pose a risk to wildlife if they are not disposed of properly. Animals may mistake plastic items for food or become entangled in them, which can cause injury or death.
To reduce the risk of harm to animals, it's important to dispose of bioplastics properly and to avoid littering. Bioplastics should be disposed of in your compost bin and sent to a municipal, commercial or industrial composting facility that is designed to compost the products correctly.
Bioplastics are the way of the future
When it comes to reducing plastic waste and micro-plastics in the ocean bioplastics are the way to go. bioplastics are a safe and sustainable alternative to traditional plastics for food service disposables. Bioplastics that are certified are generally considered safe for humans, the environment, and animals, but it's important to choose bioplastics that have been certified as biodegradable or compostable, and to dispose of them properly. By taking these steps, we can reduce our reliance on traditional plastics and protect the planet for future generations.
Interested in switching to compostable plastic products? Check out these collections: Plant based cutlery, PLA cold Cups, PLA straws