Bioplastics, a way to pollute less

These materials, which are produced from any renewable source, only represent one percent of the plastics currently produced, although their production will increase in the coming years.

As technology advances, plastic producers and consumers are looking for less environmentally aggressive alternatives.

Since 1920, the plastics industry began a trajectory with the purpose of seeking and presenting more flexible, resistant and durable products to consumers. But in the search for greater practicality for human beings, natural resources have been overexploited without measuring the consequences they may have on the environment.

Currently, in Mexico, 12.88 percent of the waste is plastic, which ends up in garbage dumps and most of it reaches the oceans.

For this reason, various companies have implemented the option of bioplastics, in order to reduce the environmental impact that this industry has.

What are they exactly?

Bioplastics are those plastics that are produced from a plant or some other biological material, always from renewable sources, such as polylactic acids (PLA) found in plants, corn or sugar cane. Another of the materials from which they are made are polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA).

PLA is mostly used in food packaging and packaging, while PHA is used in medical devices such as sutures and cardiovascular patches.

“A bioplastic has to be made from one hundred percent degradable or compostable materials, and another aspect they have is that they can be reusable,” Ian Lifshitz, Vice President of Sustainability at Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) Sinar Mas, told El Sol de México. , company dedicated to the creation of bioplastics.

One of the differences that these plastics have compared to conventional ones is that the latter come from a non-renewable source, such as oil, which also pollutes, is not biodegradable and can take up to a thousand years to decompose.

Another of their characteristics is that they can be degraded biologically, that is; through the action of living beings.

In addition, they have numerous benefits such as the reduction of the carbon footprint, since they represent energy savings in their production, in addition to the fact that they do not contain harmful additives (such as phthalate or bisphenol A) and do not modify the taste or smell of food.

“The idea is to create products that are useful to people and at the same time maintain a complete sustainability cycle and pay attention that from the beginning to the end of its production, that product is sustainable,” added Lifshitz.

Thanks to its effectiveness and user demand for less polluting plastics, different projects have emerged around the world that seek to create more and better bioplastics.

Experts from the University of British Columbia (UBC), together with the firm Bioform, have developed a technology based on spider webs, which transforms seaweed and wood fiber into another type of bioplastic.

Although bioplastics can generate the same amount of garbage as other materials, they do not pose an environmental problem due to the nature of their materials, since they do not take as long to degrade.

These are materials that decompose quickly after being used, which would help reduce the amount of plastic waste that accumulates every minute in landfills.

At the same time, they have proven to be just as versatile and resistant as the traditional ones and today they are mostly used in the textile industry, in medicine and in the packing and packaging market.

Although they could be confused with biodegradable plastics, both have different characteristics.

It is important to say that unlike bioplastics that decompose naturally and some are even compostable, biodegradable ones need specific climatic and terrestrial conditions for them to degrade.

And as long as these characteristics are not met, biodegradable plastic will accumulate in landfills just like all the others, which does not help reduce the problem, but rather aggravates it.

Advances around these materials

These materials can be produced from plants

The National Technological Center for Canning and Food (CTNC) based in Murcia, Spain, has initiated research for the industry to produce more profitable, cheaper and more efficient bioplastics from a technological and quality point of view.

For this, they developed the ET1 CHEAP BIOPLASTIC project, which has the objective of developing efficient technologies that achieve a pretreatment of waste to adopt them as substrates that serve to manufacture bioplastics through a process that simulates a fermentation process of organic matter.

Although the CTNC is focused on the agri-food industry, its objective is to contribute to the introduction of bioplastics to the global economy.

Another of the investigations around them is one carried out in 2011 by the University of Pittsburgh, which reports that there are environmental problems associated with the cultivation of plants for bioplastics. Among them the contamination of the land with fertilizers and the separation of food.

The research calls into question the use of corn for the manufacture of plastic, instead of being a source of food for many people.

The filmmakers open the debate to this type of practice because they consider that the panorama of the current food crisis does not allow allocating food for uses other than feeding people.

On the other hand, AIMPLAS is an Innovation and Technology Center that aims to promote direct contact between companies in the sustainable plastics sector and consumers.

On its website, it presents essays and research that help consumers better understand how the bioplastics industry moves and what it consists of.

In addition, they intend to promote small entrepreneurs who have innovative projects to introduce them in the current bioplastics industry.

Companies accept them

The introduction of bioplastics could generate a conflict of interest between governments, companies and oil companies, due to the millionaire amounts that this industry generates each year.

According to figures presented in 2019 at the largest business forum in Latin America, Plastimagen Mexico, the plastics industry generates sales of more than 22 billion dollars a year worldwide.

Despite the huge figures, disagreements over the creation of bioplastics are almost non-existent. On the contrary, various companies with sustainability axes have implemented them in their catalogs and others have even emerged dedicated solely to their production.

One of them is Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) Sinar Mas, a leading company in the manufacture of biodegradable packaging based on tissue paper.

“Among the environmental contribution policies that we have is zero deforestation, that is, for the production of bioplastics not a single tree is cut down from any forest that is already done,” said Ian.

This company uses paper as a substitute for plastic and with it produces products such as cups, packaging and containers, mostly for food.

“Bioplastics must not only be produced from organic materials, but they also have to have a social responsibility behind them,” Ian pointed out.

Another one is BIOsolutions, a company that produces bioplastics based on agave fiber.

Unlike other bioplastics, these are manufactured with agro-industrial waste, that is; They are not extracted directly from nature, but from something that has already been processed and we try to have zero waste.

Bioplastics for the world

In 2020, the European Bioplastics Association (EUBP) pointed out that by 2025 the production of bioplastics would grow 36 percent.

In addition, they pointed out that their production in 2026 will reach 7.59 million tons, more than double what was produced in 2021.

Today the production of bioplastics does not represent even one percent of the 367 million tons produced annually, however, its production and demand are increasing.

Although today one of the challenges of bioplastics is their identification and separation, since they can be confused with other types of plastics.

However, in continents such as Europe, Asia and regions such as Latin America they have already set to work so that the management of bioplastics is much more effective and their objective of reducing the amount of garbage produced per year and being environmentally responsible materials is fulfilled. environment.