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Concerns about the rising price and supply limits of petroleum, as well as environmental factors, have spurred the use and development of bioplastics synthesized from corn, soy, sugar cane, and other crops.
Unlike conventional plastics, bioplastics biodegrade relatively quickly under the right conditions, and they’re made from annually renewable crops rather than petroleum. PLA can also be recycled into more of the same product repeatedly, while plastic can’t.
Early reports suggest that bioplastic can be an effective substitute for petroleum-based plastic. And the end products, include T-shirts, forks and coffins, look, feel and perform like traditional polyester and plastic made from a petroleum base. But the manufacturing process consumes 50 percent less fossil fuel, even after accounting for the fuel needed to plant and harvest the corn.
Since relatively few people in the US have access to commercial or industrial composters, which help bioplastics degrade, lots of bioplastic is ending up in landfills or recycling bins. In landfills, PLA will lack the light and heat it needs to degrade. Plastic recycling is unlikely to be adversely affected by PLA, which can’t currently be processed by mainstream recyclers, until it makes up a far greater percentage of plastic than it does now. The best option would be to develop a separate recycling stream for PLA.
However, one danger of increased bioplastic use is that people might end up buying a lot of it if they think it’s less problematic than petroleum-based alternatives. A shift to bioplastics still needs to be accompanied by waste reduction.
When reuse isn’t feasible, bioplastics can be the best alternative. For instance, informal parties and gathers are held either indoors or outdoors where hosts can’t wash and reuse food service items. Instead, they use compostable plates, cups, and utensils made from plastic or paper.
Bioplastic is also a good option for collecting kitchen compost and yard trimmings destined for commercial composting, because the bags can be composted along with their contents. With a little forethought, we can all reduce our use of plastics and make the healthiest choices for our families and the planet. More information, please visit: .