Petroleum-based plastic takes so much time to break down that every plastic item ever created still exists in some form on the planet. Plastic disintegrates into smaller and smaller pieces or microplastics. These are eventually absorbed into the environment, causing irreversible damage to the ecosystem. A recent study revealed that roughly 83% of testing sites across five continents are contaminated with plastic fibre. Even closer to home (so-to-speak), studies have shown microplastics being consumed by humans is more common than we might wish to believe.
Bioplastics have provided humanity with a more eco-friendly alternative to the production of packaging and single-use items. Some biobased plastics are compostable, others can only be recycled, and some are biodegradable but take as long to break down as traditional plastics. By definition, the term bioplastic can be applied to any plastic material that is primarily derived from renewable organic materials, such as corn starch. These environmentally friendly plastics provide us with ecological advantages that can help reduce pollution of natural ecosystems and shrink our energy footprint.
TYPES OF BIOPLASTICS
Although the list of bio-based polymers with a variety of unique attributes and applications continues to expand, the most common bioplastics include:
- Starch-Based Bioplastics, which include corn starch. They are often mixed with biodegradable polyesters.
- Cellulose-Based Bioplastics, which are produced using cellulose esters and cellulose derivatives.
- Protein-Based Bioplastics, produced using protein sources such as wheat gluten, casein, and milk.
- Aliphatic Polyesters: A collection of biobased polyesters including PHB (poly-3-hydroxybutyrate), PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates), PHV (polyhydroxyvalerate), polyhydroxyhexanoate PHH, PLA (polylactic acid), polyamide 11 (PA11). They are all more or less sensitive to hydrolytic degradation and can be mixed with other compounds.
- Organic Polyethylene: Polyethylene that has been produced from the fermentation of raw agricultural materials like sugar cane and corn, rather than fossil fuels.
ARE ALL BIOPLASTICS COMPOSTABLE?
Although all materials are technically degradable, we typically only refer to those that degrade within a relatively short period of time (less than a year) as ‘biodegradable.’ It’s for this reason that not all bioplastics are considered biodegradable.
Degradable: All plastics, including petroleum-based plastics, are degradable. With the right environmental conditions and enough time, these items will break down into fragments. However, the materials used to make traditional plastics will never return to a natural state and therefore will continue to pollute the environment with chemical compounds.
Biodegradable: Bioplastics that are considered “biodegradable” can be broken down by microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and algae into water, carbon dioxide, methane, biomass, and inorganic compounds. Bioplastics that can be completely broken down within a few months are considered biodegradable.
Compostable: Compostable bioplastics can be broken down by microorganisms into nutrient-rich biomass in as little as three months and leave behind no toxins or residue. Polylactic acid (PLA) is a compostable bioplastic can be easily composted. To be considered compostable, bioplastics must meet the ASTM D6400 standard for compostability.
Compostable bioplastics have the potential to help solve the environmental issues surround our love of single-use plastic products. To shop our range of certified compostable and biodegradable products, please click here.