About Bio-plastics

About Bio-plastics

  • Bioplastic are a category of plastics derived from renewable bio-based resources.
  • Conventional plastics are made from petroleum-based raw materials, bioplastics are made from 20 percent or more of renewable materials.
  • Bioplastic can be both biodegradable and non-biodegradable.
  • Bio-plastics can also be non-biobased but biodegradable.

 

 

 

Types of Bioplastics

Depending on the feedstock used for making bioplastics there are two main types of bioplastics:

PLA (polyactic acid)

  • It is typically made from the sugars in corn starch, cassava or sugarcane.
  • The starch is comprised of long chains of carbon molecules; similar to the carbon chains in plastic from fossil fuels form a long-chain polymer (a large molecule consisting of repeating smaller units) that is the building block for plastic.
  • Hence, it is biodegradable, carbon-neutral and edible.

PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate)

  • It is made by microorganisms, sometimes genetically engineered, that produce plastic from organic materials.
  • The microbes are deprived of nutrients like nitrogen, oxygen and phosphorus, but given high levels of carbon.
  • They produce PHA as carbon reserves, which they store in granules until they have more of the other nutrients they need to grow and reproduce.
  • Companies can then harvest the microbe-made PHA, which has a chemical structure similar to that of traditional plastics.
  • Because it is biodegradable and will not harm living tissue.
  • PHA is often used for medical applications such as sutures, slings, bone plates and skin substitutes; it is also used for single-use food packaging.

 

Advantages of Bioplastics

  • Reduced use of fossil fuel resources.
  • Smaller carbon footprint.
  • Bioplastics do produce significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional plastics over their lifetime.
  • Faster decomposition.
  • Bioplastic is also less toxic and does not contain bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone disrupter that is often found in traditional plastics.

 

Bioplastics in India

  • In India there are 16 companies that make bioplastics.
  • In Indian case, bioplastics are those that are biodegradable.

 

Challenges

  • Bioplastics are relatively expensive.
  • PLA can be 20 to 50 percent more costly than comparable materials.
  • Since they are made from the byproducts of food crops a bioplastic carry bag could cost almost thrice as much.
  • In order to decompose biodegradable bioplastics we need industrial composter.
  • However, most Indian cities lack facilities to compost bioplastics.
  • Further the raw material used for bioplastics manufacture in India is imported mostly from Europe or China. This makes manufacture of bioplastic expensive in India.
  • While bioplastics degradation is fast in industrial composting facilities, it takes years in the natural environment.
  • This might increase the litter due to wrong perception that bioplastics are naturally decomposed.
  • Bioplastics production results in pollutants, due to the fertilizers and pesticides used in growing the crops.
  • The bioplastics also contributes to more ozone depletion than the traditional plastics, and required extensive land use.

 

Way Forward

  • Indian companies should manufacture raw material indigenously to bring down the cost.
  • Innovation in feedstock is another way to reduce the cost of industrial composting like use of ‘second-generation” and “third-generation” feedstock
  • For example, feedstock made from tapioca starch and vegetable oil is naturally compostable.
  • The most important innovation is the use of non-food crops like saw dust, organic mixed-waste etc.
  • Another feedstock is algae like it is done in Israel.
  • Further India should have a policy including sops like subsidies for electricity consumption, lower rates of Goods and Services Tax and lower import duties for bioplastic manufacturers.
  • Municipalities should step up in improving composting infrastructure.
  • Further separate recycling streams are necessary to be able to properly discard bioplastics.

 

Section : Environment & Ecology

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