Bioplastics: a viable substitute

A technological innovation in favour of the environment

A more sustainable market

Can we live without plastic? This seems to be one of the fundamental questions of our century. Some people have decided to radically change their lifestyle in favour of the environment: this is the zero waste movement, which welcomes all those who have eliminated waste products from their daily lives.

Most of us, however, partly out of habit, partly out of convenience or more often out of distraction, can only answer no to the initial question and admit that we fill our plastic waste bins every week.

By finding a balance between these extreme positions, thanks to the application of research and technology to industry, many innovative solutions have come onto the market.

For example, the use of solid soap instead of liquid soap reduces the amount of packaging used; similarly, replacing normal tampons with compostable ones reduces the burden on the environment. In short, many variations of the products on the market have been introduced in an attempt to reconcile the daily use of certain items with a greater focus on sustainability.

Similar but not equal

One of these innovations is certainly the conversion to bioplastics, materials with physical characteristics similar to plastic, but derived from raw materials of biological origin. Retaining the same elastic properties and ease of melting, they have proven to be an excellent substitute for packaging, disposable products and all other plastic items.

Bioplastics are usually composed of organic biomass such as maize, cereals and beets, combined with a varying percentage of fossil-based matter. Depending on the different compositions and structure of the resulting material, bioplastics can be biodegradable and/or compostable.

The term "biodegradable" refers to a substance that, being composed of biomass, undergoes the process of decomposition within a short time frame of a few months to a few years. Obviously, plastics are also absorbed by the environment, but the degradation time varies from a hundred to a thousand years, during which time the plastic micro-particles disperse, polluting the land and seas.

The term 'compostable', on the other hand, refers to the same type of process, with the particularity that the material does not release toxic substances during decomposition.

Advantages and disadvantages

The advantages of bioplastics are numerous. As already explained, the environmental impact is much lower than with plastics, less energy is required in the production process and bioplastics do not contain any toxic substances, which makes them particularly suitable for use as packaging for food or personal care products.

On the other hand, production costs are much higher, which makes bioplastics less affordable. Furthermore, as they are made of biomass, the necessary raw materials are diverted away from food use: for example, part of the maize crop will have to be used for the production of bioplastics and, especially in contexts of food shortages, can become very problematic.

The final disadvantage is disposal: bioplastics require a separate, different and less widespread process, which may further increase production costs. Despite these difficulties, bioplastics are a valuable ally on the path to sustainable conversion.

Other posts