Tackling plastic pollution is one of the most tenacious waste problems faced by the world today. With people using plastic bags and plastic products for almost every smallest task, there is no end to the rising percentage of plastic pollution in the world. Synthetic plastics that we use in our day-to-day life are not easily bio-degradable. In fact, they take hundreds of years to decompose and until then, remain as a toxic waste in the soil and water.
With the increased use of plastic products for its easy to use feature, over the past couple of decades, over 9 billion tons of synthetic plastic bags and plastic products have been manufactured, used and later dumped in the huge dumping grounds in our cities. It is in fact the single use plastics that have caused the highest percentage of pollution. These include plastic bags, plastic packaging containers and plastic bottles that are usually used once and then dumped into the bins. This resulted to severe environmental issues that not only affected our lives but also that of animals. There were times when huge plastic wastes were sucked out of the stomach of animals and plastic straws being pulled out from the nose of sea turtles. Hence, in an effort to reduce plastic pollution and clean up our planet, scientists and researchers have come up with a very interesting concept of biodegradable plastics, also called as bioplastics.
WHAT IS BIO-DEGRADABLE PLASTIC?
Synthetic plastics are made out of petrochemical products while the bio-degradable bio-plastics are made from potato and corn starch. When composted, these bio-plastics can decompose in just 3-6 months. Researchers have been successful in manufacturing bio-plastics from vegetable fats, straw, woodchips and also recycled food waste. Amazing right?
TYPES OF BIOPLASTICS
There are mainly 2 types of bio-plastics that are used to make the disposable bioplastics:
Polylactic Acid (PLA)
PLA is made from the sugar content present in plant starches of plants like Corn, Sugarcane and Cassava. They are carbon-neutral. This means that manufacturing these bioplastic has very low or no impact on the environment. They are biodegradable and also edible. PLA can be used to make plastic films, packing, bags and also bottles.
The concept of PHA is taken from micro-organisms that naturally produce polyesters which have a structure similar to plastic. PHA is mainly manufactured in industries through microbial fermentation of glucose and sugar. It is biocompatible and also biodegradable and hence, can be used in bone plates, skin substitutes and sutures. PHA made plastic can also be used for the packaging of purposes.
BENEFITS OF BIOPLASTICS
Bioplastics are a serious alternative to the light-weight strong plastics that we have been using in our day-to-day lives. These bioplastics are derived from natural plant extracts and hence are 100% biodegradable. Scientists in UK say that sugar beet and wood waste can also be used to make bioplastics. Researcher and Professor Simon McQueen, University of York stated in an interview that UK can replace almost half of its plastic bottles using just 3 percentage of its total sugar beet production.
Today, there are several products that already have started incorporating bioplastics. These include, the edible water blobs that are manufactured from seaweed and have rightly replaced plastic water bottles. Additionally, shampoo pods (plastic-free), edible cutlery (made out of rice and wheat) and dissolvable plastic bags (made from cassava starch) are already being used widely across the world. Well, we just hope people start learning more about these bioplastics and using them instead of the synthetic plastics.