🌾 Bioplastics promise a world without fossil fuel plastics. How can we get there?

Bioplastics reduce carbon emissions.

Traditional plastics need fossil fuels. Bioplastics use plants instead (often corn or sugarcane).

And bioplastics work like traditional plastic. Lightweight & strong; ideal for packaging. Experts estimate 90% of current plastics can be made from plants. Currently less than 5% are.

By switching to bioplastics, we can reduce or remove 1-4 Gigatons of CO2 equivalent between 2020-2050.

Key takeaway:

⛽ Traditional plastics = made from fossil fuels = releases new carbon
🌾 Bioplastics = made from renewable sources = no new carbon

But how are these plants grown?

Benefits of bioplastics can be undone by how we farm these plants.

Farming is complex. With many environmental concerns.

The farming impact of bioplastics should consider:

🚜 Land use:

  • How much land does it use? (Currently bioplastics use <0.2% of land).
  • Are we displacing forests?

💧 Water use:

  • How much water is needed?
  • Where does the water come from?

🧪 Fertiliser & pesticide use:

  • How much fertiliser and/or pesticides are used?
  • Does the fertiliser and/or pesticide run off and pollute water sources?

We need transparency on how bioplastics plants are grown. Organisations like Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance are working on this.

Key takeaway:

Bioplastics' farming impact
= 🚜 land use + 💧 water use + 🧪 fertiliser & pesticide use

Where do bioplastics end up?

Disposing bioplastics is tricky. Many types of bioplastics exist, with different ways to dispose of them.

  1. Most bioplastics ❌ cannot be recycled.

    Bioplastics look like traditional plastics. But chemically, they are different. Bioplastics can devalue recycling streams when mixed with traditional plastics.

    However, some bioplastics are recyclable when combined with traditional plastics. For example, Coca Cola's PlantBottle is recyclable and made from 30% bioplastic.
  1. Don't confuse bioplastics with 'biodegradable' plastics.

    In fact, stop using the word 'biodegradable'. It's misleading. The word isn't regulated - there's no time frame in which it must 'biodegrade'.
  1. Some bioplastics are 🍃 compostable.

    Some bioplastics do break down when composted. But, many bioplastics won't break down in your home compost. They need high-heat industrial composting facilities.

    Look for home compostable certification or industrial compostable certification on the material.

    And check if your council provides industrial composting here.
  1. Some bioplastics are ❌ not compostable, and ❌ not recyclable.

    Unfortunately, not all bioplastics break down when composted. These end up in landfill.

Key takeaway:

Some bioplastics are ♻️ recyclable (but ❌ not compostable).
Some bioplastics are 🍃 compostable (but ❌ not recyclable).
Some bioplastics are ❌ not compostable, and ❌ not recyclable.


Conclusion:

It's unlikely that we will get rid of plastics completely. So we need to find sustainable alternatives.

Bioplastics are not perfect. But they show promise: bioplastics are one of the top 100 solutions to reverse climate change.

To make this a reality, we need:

  • More transparency on how bioplastics plants are grown
  • Easier ways to recycle or compost bioplastics
  • Better education so people know how to properly dispose of bioplastics

What can you do?

  1. Avoid plastics

    Best thing is to avoid plastics.
    Less plastics being made (traditional or bioplastics) = less environmental impact.
  1. Consider bioplastics alternatives

    Where you can't avoid plastics, consider bioplastics. You can find bioplastic products here.
  1. Check if your local council composts

    Find out if your council offers industrial composting.

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