Plant based plastics otherwise known as Bioplastics, are a new and innovative material which carry the potential to alleviate some of the long-lasting environmental issues we face caused by conventional plastics. With manufacturing processes that emit significantly less global warming related pollution and biodegradable capabilities, Bioplastics are turning the wave on plastic pollution.
Most conventional plastics are made through petrochemical processes including polyethylene, PVC, polystyrene, polyester, nylon and acrylic. This means they are produced firstly by chemical processes of oil refining, they are then ran through more chemical processes that go on to form long molecular chains called Polymers. These polymers give plastic their structure.
Bioplastics are derived from plant-based origins. They can be made from sugar cane, corn, coffee beans or from plant by-products like wood bark, rice husk, bamboo fibre and wheat straw. These plastics are sometimes referred to as PLA (polylactic acid). PLA is one of the plastics commonly used for 3‐D printing and prototyping. Cellulose acetate is another type of plant‐based plastic. There is also another bioplastic (made from living things, rather than petroleum) which is referred to as PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) plastic. PHA is a unique polyester made naturally by certain bacteria.
You may have heard that bioplastics are biodegradable, but this is dependent on the manufacturer. The term bioplastics refers to the plant-based manufacturing method. Some types of bioplastic are biodegradable, some aren't. Some bioplastics will degrade in your home compost bin, while some require industrial composting or will break down in landfill overtime.
Recently large beverage manufacturers like Coca Cola and Pepsi are even trying to incorporate potato and orange peels into the manufacture of their drinks bottles. Wheat straw and bamboo fibre are great sources for bioplastics – they grow anywhere, are drought resistant, and grow very quickly. These plant’s do not require any pesticides for growth and can be re-utilised to avoid waste.
Plant based materials also produce less emissions than fossil fuel based plastic. When the food company ConAgra switched from petroleum-based plastic to PLA plastic for the shrink wraps on some of its products, it estimates to have cut its CO2 footprint by half a million pounds