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What are Bioplastics?



Approximately 200 million tons of traditional plastic are consumed worldwide every year, making it the third most common petroleum derivative. Conventional plastic is toxic, made from a non-renewable source, and it is non-biodegradable, so it has devastating effects on people, animals, and the environment. But bioplastics can turn that tide.


What are bioplastics, you ask? Read on and find out.


Bioplastics In A Nutshell

Bioplastics are a biodegradable alternative to traditional plastic, and it’s derived from renewable, naturally derived sources such as agricultural, marine, cellulose, potato, and corn starch waste. Apart from offering most, if not all, of the advantages of traditional plastic, bioplastic can play an essential role in reducing the amount of plastic waste that has a negative impact on the planet.


It doesn’t make sense to pack items that last a few days, weeks, or months in packaging that often ends up in various ecosystems and takes anywhere between 500 and 1,000 years or longer to decompose. Unlike traditional plastic packaging, bioplastic packaging is 100% biodegradable, taking a few weeks to biodegrade fully. This versatile and resistant alternative to conventional plastic is already being used in the agricultural, medical, textile, and container and packaging industries.


A Closer Look At Bioplastics

According to the Journal of Materials & Metallurgical Engineering, bioplastics are formed from an array of renewable substances and sources, unlike traditional plastic derived from petrochemicals. If you’re wondering what bioplastics are made of, take a look at some of the sources below:

Food waste


Some bioplastics are made from food waste such as shrimp shells discarded by the seafood industry, as well as banana peels, potato peels, orange peels, cocoa husks, carrot waste, spinach waste, tomato waste, and tea leaves. The biopolymer chitin is obtained from shrimp shells, while cellulose, cutin, pectin, and starch are obtained from vegetable and fruit waste. The vegetable and fruit waste is used as a substrate for microbial fermentation before the biopolymers are extracted and undergo further mechanical manufacturing.


Approximately 1.3 billion tons of food (one-third of food produced for human consumption) is wasted annually, contributing to environmental contamination, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Bioplastic packaging, and other products like it, can help the planet in more ways than one.


Plants, Vegetables, and Animals

Various plants or vegetables, and animals serve as renewable sources of proteins. Polysaccharides and polymers such as albumin, cellulose, gluten, pectin, soy, and starch can also be used in bioplastic production.


Microorganisms

When cultured under specific conditions, microorganisms such as fungi, microalgae, bacterias and other ingredients can form elements like polylactic acid and polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). These can all be used to create bioplastics. In its natural form, PHA is like a transparent kitchen film.


Bioplastics vs. Plastic: How Are They Made?

When it comes to bioplastics vs. plastic, we also need to consider how they’re made. According to the Journal of Materials & Metallurgical Engineering, bioplastics are made by converting monomers such as the sugars in plants or animals into polymer plastic.


For example, dextrose is extracted from milled corn and fermented by bacteria or yeast in a large vat to form lactic acid. The lactic acid acts as a monomer in polylactic acid (PLA) formation. It’s converted into oligomers known as lactides which essentially join to become PLA.


Cruz Foam provides another excellent example of manufacturing when it comes to answering the question, “What is bioplastic?” Chitin from shrimp shells discarded by the seafood industry is turned into a polymeric fluid via a water-based process and combined with pulp from recycled paper to create a foam-like material with the same properties as polystyrene and other plastic foams.


Is Bioplastic Biodegradable?

Bioplastic packaging such as Cruz Foam certainly is. Cruz Foam broke down in 60 days or less in lab testing, with an average of 97.9% biodegradation in soil. That said, not all bioplastics have the same biodegradability rate, as it depends on their intended use. Some, such as kitchen film, are home compostable. More durable bioplastics are designed to be industrial compostable.


Conventional plastic starts out as crude oil, which is heated in a furnace to separate the hydrocarbons into different groups. Those groups are then fed into distillation tubes to form chemicals such as gasoline, naphtha, paraffin, and petroleum.


Naphtha contains ethane and propylene, which are important in making traditional plastic. The ethane and propylene in naphtha must be broken down into smaller units, which is done by subjecting them to high heat and pressure in a zero-oxygen environment.


This process produces ethylene and propylene, which are then polymerized to form polymers known as polyethylene and polypropylene. The long tubes of plastic that form are broken down into granules and sent to manufacturers, who melt down the granules and mold them to form various plastic products.


The production process and its results are not kind to the planet. Besides releasing a significant amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, conventional plastic is not biodegradable. Bacteria in the soil don’t recognize the carbon backbone in plastic, so they can’t digest it and convert it into carbon dioxide and water.


Even if it takes 1,000 years to break down traditional plastic, it probably will never biodegrade entirely – the particles will just be too small for us to see without a microscope.


Advantages Of Bioplastics

Now that we’ve looked at what bioplastics are and how they’re made, let’s explore a few advantages of bioplastics.

  • Bioplastics are eco-friendly: Most bioplastics are obtained from renewable resources, unlike traditional plastic from oil-based sources. Bioplastic production is less intensive and emits significantly less greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

  • Bioplastics are biodegradable: Less durable bioplastics, such as bioplastic packaging, are easily degraded by microbes within a few months. The end products of the process include biomass, carbon dioxide, inorganic compounds, methane, and water. More durable bioplastics may take a few years to degrade completely.

  • Bioplastics are compostable: Some bioplastics are home compostable, while others can be composted in an industrial or laboratory facility.

  • Bioplastics offer monomer recovery: Most bioplastics can be used to recover monomers at the end of the products’ lifespans. For example, PLA can be used to recover as much as 99% of lactic acid from PLA products.

  • Bioplastics offer higher job creation: The bioplastics economy offers higher job creation than the traditional plastics economy.

  • Bioplastics offer less reliance on fossil fuels: Oil is a non-renewable resource. Bioplastics are made from renewable resources, which means less dependence on oil.

Try Cruz Foam

It’s evident that genuinely sustainable solutions are crucial to reducing plastic production. We need to consider a circular economy, focusing our efforts on products that are fully biodegradable. Cruz Foam is an eco-friendly alternative to Styrofoam. Get in touch with us today if you would like to make the switch to environmentally friendly bioplastic packaging.