The concept of bioplastics has helped settle the environmental debates across the world, with research activities finally indicating that the product could replace conventional plastics altogether. ‘Bioplastics’ are an environment friendly alternative to plastics and are derived from biological substances. The degradable nature of the product is what is attracting so much attention, given that there are several unified efforts toward a sustainable globe. As the product has successfully answered all the complex questions and conundrums with respect to its properties and applications, it has become a subject of interest across the globe. With massive investments and constant innovations almost becoming regularity, the global bioplastics market will be worth $20 billion by the end of 2027.
Can Bioplastics Match the Properties of Petroleum-derived Plastics?
The biodegradable nature of bioplastics is the primary factor that has drawn significant attention in recent years. But there are numerous questions to be answered before we can regard this as a seamless alternative to plastics. Although plastics are harmful to the environment, the favorable properties of the product are the main reason why it has been so commercially successful for ages.
Early bioplastic derivatives were quickly diminished by analysts; with several people claiming the product is nowhere similar to conventionally used plastic. However, the past decade has unfolded several products that have helped overcome the previous barriers. Constant research and development in bioplastics have yielded products with properties mirroring those of conventional plastics.
Complexities in Plastic Waste Disposal is Driving Advances in Bioplastics
Among the list of global issues, environmental pollution and depletion of resources are certainly at the top. With issues such as climate change described as a severe crisis, several efforts are being directed towards the adoption of sustainable products. It is obvious now that plastic wastes are not being addressed properly and the impact on oceanic bodies have been visualized and presented by several activists as governing organizations. Recent advances in bioplastics have allowed applications similar to plastics and several new product variants have been introduced with proven properties. It is safe to say that the efforts and investments in bioplastics have helped reap substantial benefits.
Listed below are a few of the established as well as emerging companies that have made their riches through bioplastic products over the past two decades:
- Novamont S.p.A.
- Yield10 Biosciences
- LCY biosciences
Timeline for Bioplastics Evolution:
To summarize the evolution of bioplastics over the past few decades, we have labelled a few of the breakthrough concepts in this sector that have proved defining:
- 1990: First successful bioplastic
Although bioplastics have been in practise for ages, the first real successful product was introduced in the year 1990. Britain-based Imperial Chemicals introduced ‘Biopol,’ a product that was completely biodegradable and experimentally proven for diverse applications. Biopol marked the beginning of what is regarded as a period of commercial evolution of the product.
- 2001: ‘Elephant Grass’ used for bioplastic production
In 2001, Nick Tucker, a researcher at the University of Lincoln (UK), was the first of many scientists to work on the use of elephant grass for manufacturing bioplastics. Despite limited practical use, this idea sparked several other innovations in the years thereafter,
- 2010: Remy Lucas’ ‘Algopack’ introduces bioplastic with 5-hour biodegrading time stamp
Algopack, a company established by Remy Lucas in 2010, unveiled a new bioplastic that was derived from biomass. The company claimed that the product had the ability to biodegrade within 12 weeks in soil and within a mere five hours when disposed-off in water.
- 2018: First car made from bioplastics
In 2018, a group of 22 researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology developed a new car made completely out of bioplastics. What’s fascinating is that the weight of the car was brought down to almost half weight of a regular car. There’s more! The bioplastic car, that was eventually named ‘Noah,’ is said to be fully degradable. This product certainly ticks all the boxes for sustainable integration.
Enormous Plastic Use Calls for an Even Bigger Need for Sustainable Alternatives
The global plastic consumption numbers serve as an alarming call for the environment. According to statistics provided by plasticoceans.org, we dump almost 8 million tons of plastic in oceanic bodies every year. To add to that, we produce almost 300 million tons of plastic every year; a figure that is indicative of the wide use of plastic in daily life. Such massive numbers should ideally create a sense of urgency and with recent advances in bioplastics we could very well say that these stats might just change. We are not saying this is an overnight process; the bioplastic revolution will happen over a period of several decades but what is certain is that it will happen eventually. We’re not sure if we will completely replace plastics with degradable and environment-friendly bioplastics, but the progress so far has shown signs of a promising future.
Tanay Bhalla is a highly-driven writer with extensive knowledge of diverse industries. His approach to writing is simple, intended to ensure a seamless read.
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