Bioplastics – A Strong Substitute for the Future


Bioplastics are offering the most promising solutions to plastic menace to disturb the ecology of the planet. These represent the group of materials with different properties and applications, composed of chemicals which are synthesized by microorganisms such as bacteria. Bioplastics are bio based, derived from the natural renewable resources, and are biodegradable. The inevitability of developing the economic system in accordance with the way nature works is increasingly recognized by the industry experts. Therefore, their efforts are directed towards the industrial scale production of bio-plastics.
Recycling of bioplastics is a big opportunity and has a potential to emerge as a major area of bio-plastic industry. It is worth noting that only nine percent of traditional plastic has been recycled since it became common all over the world. Bioplastics look and sense very similar to regular plastics and should be avoided in same recycle chain to maintain the quality of both categories. Separate dedicated recycling systems are required to operate everywhere to re-use each type of bioplastic with the aim to completely substitute the petroleum-based plastic.
Bioeconomy for the Sustainable Development
Bioeconomy is the novel concept of creating an entire economy based on renewable biological resources for sustainable production and their application in food and healthcare, energy, industrial products. Bioplastics are the important component of bioeconomy. Innovations in bioeconomy are creating numerous employment opportunities and can develop a diversified market in the rural and coastal regions. Around eighty percent of byproducts in petrochemical industry are used for manufacturing the polymer materials. Replacing them with biomass is the only way ahead for bioeconomy to cause a sweeping change.
In Search of the Absolute Material
Bioplastics are essentially polymer compounds with a variety of chemical compositions. They can be broadly categorized into two parameters – one is bio-based and another is biodegradable. Commodity plastics like PE, PP, and PVC can be made bio-based with the renewable resources available in nature like the agricultural waste. Bio based and non-biodegradable polymers are Bio-PE, Bio-PET, etc. The third category embraces the bio-plastics materials such as PBAT, PCL and the fourth category is most eco-friendly which consists of starch blend polymers like PHA, PLA which are sourced from bio-based raw materials. Non-toxic additives are mixed to maximize the useful properties of these materials.
These materials have different chemical compositions which can be listed as below –
PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) is made by genetically engineered microorganisms and often used for medical applications
PLA (polylactic acid) is an edible plastic made from the sugars in cornstarch or sugarcane.
PBAT (polybutyrate adipate terephthalate) is biodegradable and compostable.
PBS (polybutylene succinate) is biodegradable polyester with properties like polypropylene.
PHB (polyhydroxybutyrate) is temperature resistant, durable polymer.
Scientists and industry experts believe that these bio-plastic materials are the substitute in future for traditional plastic.
Implications of using Bioplastics on the Industrial Scale
The environmental value of bioplastics is based on the level of its biodegradability. Photodegradable bio-plastics use sunlight and oxo-degradable use heat and light to degrade more quickly. Biodegradable plastics use microorganisms to degrade within days and produce carbon dioxide and water.
There are challenges like the availability of biomass on industrial scale and complications involved in processing and refinement but alternative solutions are also being searched. Independent studies have indicated that marine red algae were previously used for producing biofuels which can be a crop for bio-plastics also. Seaweeds can be an alternative biomass crop which is cost effective and has the minimum disturbing effect on ecological systems. Bioplastics properties like weak water resistance and mechanical fragileness are found in certain materials produced from crops like maize and potato. This makes even more sense to use alternative biomass resources rather than food crops.
Bioplastics are the most effective substitute for many products of daily use and can have an immensely positive impact on the environment. It is contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It decreases the carbon footprint by providing energy savings in production for achieving sustainable development goals. According to independent reports, global bio-plastics market is estimated to increase from seventeen billion USD around a year to reach thirty-six billion USD in coming two to three years.
A Vivid Future of Bioplastics
Research and development efforts are expected to provide solutions to improve the current situation and hurdles for the commercial use of bio-plastics. Universities are collaborating to establish a cooperative research center devoted to the development of biologically made plastics. This will further strengthen the environmental claims made for bio-plastic substitutes. Their efforts will be focused on increasing the biodegradability and the biomass content. The ultimate aim is to have accurate and specific information on a variety of substitute materials available.
Bioplastic Packaging market is also booming across the world. Especially in North America, Europe, China, Japan, Southeast Asia and India, it is expected to increase manifold in near future. Global annual production capacities of materials like PBAT are currently around ten thousand tons. Companies are strengthening the business with a considerable investment in research and development. They are co-operating with government authorities, regulators, and consumer forums. Initiatives are being taken by the manufacturers for implementing rigorous quality testing parameters of bioplastic materials and degradability.

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