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Are bioplastics a real sustainable packaging solution?

Michael Wilson | Aug 8, 2014

Bioplastics are plastics created from natural materials found in several kinds of plants. Proponents of these materials tout bioplastics as a groundbreaking development that will ...

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Bioplastics are plastics created from natural materials found in several kinds of plants. Proponents of these materials tout bioplastics as a groundbreaking development that will help revolutionize recyclability on a global scale. There has been much debate, however, over the question of just how effective bioplastics are at reducing the negative impact of packaging on the environment. Many are wondering, “are bioplastics a sustainable packaging solution?” The answer to this question is not a simple one.

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The Case For Bioplastics As Sustainable Packaging

Supporters of bioplastics contend that these materials are helpful because they provide an alternative to traditional plastics, which break down very slowly and release toxins into the atmosphere when they decompose. According to bio-plastics.org, bioplastics can be very important in helping to achieve a positive ecological balance and protecting the natural environment. Part of this is because of what is referred to as a closed carbon cycle, in which the amount of material used to produce plastics can be recovered thanks to degradable plastics promoting the growth of new plants.

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Supporters of bioplastics also maintain that these plastics will help society break free from a dependence on petroleum, a limited resource that some believe will run dry within our lifetimes. Ecofriend reports that petroleum can also be more dangerous to use for production of plastics, since it contains carcinogenic components that are often unsafe to work with unless properly treated.

The Disadvantages Of Bioplastics

Those on the other side of the debate that has ensued from the question of “are bioplastics a sustainable packaging solution?” feel that supporters of bioplastics are not providing the full story. Packaging Europe magazine recently published an article that outlines some of the negative aspects of bioplastics, including the fact that more fossil fuels are consumed by machines used to clear and prepare land to grow the crops that are harvested for materials implemented in the production of bioplastics. Further, growing more crops to use for the production of bioplastics instead of food might increase food prices in parts of the world where many people are already struggling to feed themselves.

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Even worse, many don't realize that bioplastics are degradable, not meant to be recycled. The presence of bioplastics in the recycling stream has been shown to have a negative impact on the quality of the recycling process. Since many consumers aren't sure about the difference between these types of plastics, they might mistakenly put bioplastics to be recycled with their other plastics.

Coming To A Conclusion On Bioplastics

Answering the question of “are bioplastics a sustainable packaging solution?” requires some research and attention to the opinions of both sides of the debate. It is up to each individual to examine all of the facts that have been presented and draw their own conclusions about whether or not bioplastics are a truly sustainable option for environmentally-friendly packaging in the future.

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