Intertwined with the growing population and modernity are the massive use and production of plastic. It is a fact that using and manufacturing plastic is something that is inevitable, for it is something that is needed especially for commercial use purposes. However, the sad plight is that man is not responsible for the use and proper disposal of these plastics.
The marine environment, as well as almost everywhere, became a big trash bin for us to throw our used plastic. About 18 Billion lbs. of this plastic is being found in marine life, thereby causing a domino effect on the marine ecosystem, affecting the fish, the salt, and almost everything that is being found and consumed by human beings from the ocean. It is no wonder that most likely than not that there could be some “plastic residues” in our bodies.
With the continuous awareness and environmental concerns, people became adamant about searching for a plastic alternative. An alternative that has the functionality of plastic but does not have the same hazardous environmental impact. The concept of “bioplastic” became word of mouth and may even sound promising. People started moving towards bio-based plastic packaging. For the word itself, “bioplastic” may connote to be environmentally friendly plastic. It is as if that an individual may use the convenience of “plastic” for “bio-based plastic” packaging but not having the “guilt” and worries of doing environmental harm.
Pros of Bioplastic
Though the actual “merits” or “beneficial benefits” of bioplastic may still be debatable but still having a healthy option is something to look forward to positively. In its simplest concept, when we talk about bioplastic, it is a type of plastic wherein the component of the material used is not petroleum-based but rather is plant or biological-based.
The plant or biological component of the bioplastic may come from the plant extract, such as sugar extract from sugarcane and corn. The sugar extracted from these plants will undergo a process of conversion into PLAs or polylactic acids. The type of plastic produced from PLAs is frequently utilized in the industry of food packaging. The other process is what is known as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), and the plastic produced in this process is being used for medical devices such as cardiovascular patches and sutures.
One of the cheapest sources for bioplastic is the PLA considering that it is part of the same industries that are producing ethanol. The kind of plastic from PLA is what is being used for utensils, textiles, and plastic bottles.
Some concerns were expressed specifically on the possibility of food scarcity for the substance used in manufacturing bioplastic is primarily plant-based, such as sugar extract from the corn and sugarcane. However, this concern was readily answered by Ramani Narayan, a chemical engineer and pioneering head of bioplastic, who states that “The other value proposition is that plant biomass is renewable” and further stressed that” It’s grown all over the world. Oil is concentrated in regions. Bioplastics support a rural, agrarian economy.”
Looking at a bigger picture, we can say that using bioplastic that has material components that are plant-based is environmentally sound rather than using plastic made from petroleum. Based on the study, it is being found out that about eight percent of the world’s oil reserve is being utilized for the production of plastic.
Further, it is a massive contributor to carbon emission, specifically once it is discarded. This may be the total opposite of the bioplastic, for it does not emit carbon but rather it returns back to the plant for bioplastic is degradable. As emphasized by Narayan, “The argument [for bio-based plastics] is the inherent value of reducing the carbon footprint.”
Cons of Bioplastic
Looking on the other side of the coin, some people believe that bioplastic is actually no different from plastic made from petroleum. One key figure that expressed “doubts” as to the viability of bioplastic as an environmental alternative is Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer and National Geographic Explorer.
According to Jambeck, the discarded bioplastic will undergo the same disposal procedure as the plastics that are petroleum-based. For basically, the idea of biodegradable bioplastic is not feasible. Still, the discarded bioplastic will eventually end up in a landfill, it may be recycled, which is basically the same as the plastic made of petroleum, or it can be in the compost site. The bioplastic must be exposed an extreme heat in order for it to break down for the reason that it will not degrade on its own.
If not properly disposed of and eventually ends up in the ocean, the bioplastic will also have the same hazardous effects as the common petroleum-based plastics. Bioplastic will also destroy marine life for the simple reason that it is not biodegradable.
As being pointed out by Jambeck, “If PLA [bioplastic] does leak out, it also will not biodegrade in the ocean; it’s really not any different from those industrial polymers. Still, the point still lies on the individual’s responsibility towards proper disposal of these plastics.”
Having an idea that plastic may be compostable may sound like a better alternative. Still, it is within the parameters of human responsibility to properly ensure that these bioplastics will not leak out and be improperly disposed of, but rather they must turn to compost. There must be adequate infrastructure, and the consumer knows how. If not, the bioplastic is just ending up as a mere “greenwashing”.
The word “greenwashing” was coined by environmentalists to state that oftentimes the market propaganda for “greener earth” by these manufacturers is just to mislead the consumers. The buying public is “greenwashed” in making them believe that what they are buying and patronizing is an environmental act. If this marketing drive has the proper system on how to implement their marketing concept effectively, it will just be an act of futility.
There are always two sides to the coin, especially when we are dealing with the proper conservation of mother earth for the next generation. The question of whether bioplastic is an environmental alternative may still redound on the individual’s sense of being responsible for his actions.