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Instead of limited petroleum-based raw materials, biomass-based plastic has a partially better approach than traditional plastic, as the name indicates. In theory, bioplastic is made from bio-based content with a biodegradable functionality, through the extraction of sugar from plants like corn, sugarcane and potato starch that aim to capture carbon in the initial phase of the process. While growing, these plants pull carbon out of the atmosphere, assimilating it inside with the ultimate goal of having a permanent purpose, such as building materials. Unfortunately, this is not the case as we witness an immense appliance on single-use products that end up decomposing and releasing it all back into the atmosphere.
The idea is great, we’ll give it that, but what makes it truly unreliable?
The fact that most bio-based plastics also contain up to 75% of fossil fuel-based and materials/chemicals. Considering the majority of bioplastic production, it ends up behaving like ordinary plastic, contributing to microplastic pollution as they fragment into smaller pieces over a similar lifetime. These blended materials, as well as purely bio-based polymers, are often chemically and functionally identical to conventional plastic, and therefore do not help reduce plastic waste/pollution.
Furthermore, while the biological feedstocks for bio-based plastics are tagged as “renewable,” their environmental consequences are highly dependent on the land-use and agricultural practices used in growing them. The petroleum used to run the farms of the 3.4 million acre of land required, also produces a great amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
“Bio-based plastics are not a more sustainable alternative to conventional plastics, and have no role to play in solving the plastics crisis.” - Plastic Solutions Review
At the end of the day, the marvelous sight ends up being a desert mirage. There are benefits only when taking a host of factors into consideration. On top of it all, companies can and might take advantage of this phenomenon by increasing the production of polymers under the guise of eco-sustainability. Remember that, in some cases, plastic only has to be 20% biobased to meet certification requirements!
To sum it up, one thing continues being crystal clear regardless of the source of carbon that is used in production: the only way to stop the ongoing plastic crisis, is to stop producing so much plastic.
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