“Green” Plastics? by Rebecca Mayer

Bioplastics is emerging as a quickly growing industry.  Touting renewable plant-based production materials, companies hope to market their green image to an increasingly environmentally aware consumer.

Bioplastics are used for disposable items such as plastic cutlery and packaging, as well as in the technology and automotive industries.  Rather than being produced from petroleum, which is an expensive pollutant, this plastic can be derived from plant fibers and vegetable oil.

Although utilizing cheaper and less toxic materials, the production process for bioplastics still requires petroleum.

Bioplastics may not biodegrade, either.  According to wikipedia, “most bioplastics will only degrade in the tightly controlled conditions of industrial composting units. In compost piles or simply in the soil/water, most bioplastics will not degrade; starch-based bioplastics will, however.”

According to Packaging Knowledge, a cup made from cornstarch acts no differently than one made from petroleum when buried beneath the surface of a landfill: Without air and heat, it stays intact.

Despite the obvious challenges to the industry, it seems Bioplastics are here to stay.  Wal-Mart and Sony in the US are using the technology in their products, as well as the large chain Marks and Spencer in the UK.  It’s important to research the impact of each supposedly “green” plastic, to see how it is produced and also how it is designed for disposal.


About bagitmovie

Bag It is a documentary film following the world wide use of plastic bags, plastic's impact on the environment and human health.
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2 Responses to “Green” Plastics? by Rebecca Mayer

  1. Greg Stevens says:

    The bioplastic industry is very new and very fast-growing. As a result it is hard for the media to keep up with all of the advances and developments, especially when so many of them are only really accessible to industry “insiders” — in the form of technically-worded press-releases and scientific articles.

    That is one of the reasons that I manage the website green-plastics.net. I think it is critical to keep people up to date with this industry, so that the same old fears and criticisms that were outdated years ago don’t continually get recycled by the media. I think it’s important for people to be well-informed.

    For example, the issue of green plastics biodegradability has been an area of enormous complexity and development in just the last couple of years. Despite what you quote in the wikipedia article, there are some bioplastics that will biodegrade in landfills, there are others that will biodegrade in compost facilities, and there are some that are deliberately designed to not biodegrade at all (they are “green” because of what they are made from, not because they biodegrade).

    Our website actually discussed this at length in the article Shades of Green.

    Additionally, you say, “Although utilizing cheaper and less toxic materials, the production process for bioplastics still requires petroleum.” This single-sentence, “throw-away” criticism ignores the fact that a large number of companies have been making great strides toward making their production processes — not just their products — more green:

    Ingeo tackles every side of “green”

    So I really encourage anyone who reads Rebecca Mayer’s article to do a little more research, and really find out what is going on in the field. It is exciting and encouraging, and will only continue to get better.

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