Bioplastics - A Sustainable Alternative to Conventional Plastics

Published on 06 Jul, 2023

Conventional plastics are a major cause of marine pollution. Bioplastics, made from renewable sources, are emerging as a popular alternative. The ban on single-use plastics and increasing demand from industries drive their adoption. However, challenges like economies of scale and limited composting facilities exist. Stronger legislation and incentives are needed for widespread use. Bioplastics offer a sustainable solution to reduce plastic waste.

Marine pollution is a significant global issue and conventional plastics are the leading cause. In response, governments, companies, and consumers are exploring sustainable alternatives, and bioplastics are emerging as a popular option. Bioplastics are materials made from renewable sources such as sugarcane, vegetables, fruits, used cooking oils, corn, and coffee waste. They offer significant advantages over conventional plastics, including biodegradability and low carbon footprint.

The ban on single-use plastics is one of the key growth drivers behind the adoption of bioplastics. Many countries have implemented such bans, including Canada, China, India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Cameroon, Kenya, and several states in the US. Plastic bag taxes are implemented by several Western European countries as well. This trend is expected to continue in the future, and bioplastics is poised to become an increasingly important part of the solution.

Several industries use bioplastics– some of the prominent applications are packaging, automotive, textiles, electronics, and in the consumer products segment. The adoption of bioplastics in the packaging sector is much higher with the trend expected to continue. Almost all types of conventional plastic materials have alternatives in the form of bioplastics.

Despite their many advantages, bioplastics currently represent less than 1% of total annual plastic production. However, the market for bioplastics has continuously grown, and global bioplastics production capacity is set to increase robustly by 2026.

The increasing demand for bioplastics, coupled with the development of advanced applications and products, is driving their adoption. In the future, the market is expected to be propelled by brands embracing bioplastics for sustainability. Companies like Coca-Cola, Ford, Danone, Puma, IKEA, Heinz, and Toyota introduced large-scale products that incorporate bioplastics.

However, a few challenges limit the present adoption of bioplastics. The key challenge faced by the industry is the economies of scale, limiting the fast transition from conventional plastics to bioplastics. In addition, bioplastics can biodegrade when exposed to microorganisms and can completely decompose under carefully controlled, high-temperature conditions in industrial composting facilities. Since the number of industrial composting facilities is low, most of the bioplastics can end up in landfills, releasing methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas that can lead to global warming.

Stronger legislation is required to encourage the use of bioplastics and acknowledge their importance. Governments can provide subsidies or tax breaks for investing in bioplastics to encourage investments and have more companies set up their plants. Providing better incentives for industrial composting facilities would also help increase the number of facilities; therefore, a larger volume of bioplastics would be decomposed.

In conclusion, bioplastics represent a sustainable alternative to conventional plastics. While there are some challenges to overcome, the adoption of bioplastics is expected to grow, driven by rising demand for sustainable alternatives and the emergence of more sophisticated applications and products. With the right incentives and support from governments, bioplastics could play a crucial role in reducing the environmental impact of plastic waste.