The future of the environment also and above all depends on the ability to use sustainable raw materials and renewable sources instead of polluting raw materials. In this sense, a ray of hope seems to shine in the darkness of the plastic crisis: bioplastics. But what exactly are bioplastics, and are they really the sustainable solution they seem to be? In this article, we will explore the world of biodegradable raw materials and unveil the complex reality behind their ‘ecological’ status.
Bioplastics: What Are They?
Bioplastics are a category of plastic materials derived from renewable sources, often of plant origin, which differ from traditional petroleum-based plastic. The main characteristic of bioplastics should be their biodegradability, meaning that they can be decomposed by water, carbon dioxide, or microorganisms in relatively short times, compared to the centuries required by traditional plastic.
Types of Bioplastics
There are two main types of bioplastics based on their composition:
- PLA (polylactic acid): Obtained from sugars extracted from raw materials such as corn, cassava, or sugarcane, converted into polylactic acids.
- PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates): Produced from microorganisms deprived of the nutrients necessary to remain active, accumulating carbon in granules collected as PHA.
The versatility of thermoforming allows creating a wide range of products, from disposable to reusable items.
The fake bioplastics: NIADA’s position
In this complex and articulated context, NIADA uses 100% recyclable raw materials for its thermoformed products and a percentage of recycled raw material in the mix equal to 70-90%. This way, a product is much more sustainable compared to the so-called ‘fake biodegradable’ plastics.
Fake bioplastics, also known as conventional biodegradable plastic, are plastic materials that may seem biodegradable or compostable, but in reality, they are not significantly so. These materials are often marketed as an ecological alternative to conventional plastics.
Fake bioplastics are generally made using a mixture of synthetic materials and a small percentage of biodegradable materials. However, these mixtures do not completely decompose naturally and may require special conditions or a long period of time to degrade. As a result, they can contribute to pollution and the accumulation of waste.
To make more sustainable choices, it is advisable to pay attention to certifications and recyclability standards of plastics, as well as to encourage proper disposal and recycling of plastic materials.
For this reason, it is good to rely on manufacturers of 100% recyclable thermoformed products that offer significantly broader advantages than those guaranteed by fake bioplastics.
The Reality of Bioplastics
Although bioplastics seem like a promising solution, the reality is quite different from what we might think. Here are some of the challenges that make bioplastics less sustainable than one might expect:
- Composting Process: To degrade bioplastics, a heat treatment at high temperatures is often necessary, making the process longer than modern recycling techniques. Many countries do not have suitable facilities for this procedure, leading to the disposal of bioplastics in landfills.
- Methane Emission: If bioplastics end up in oxygen-deprived landfills, they can release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
- Marine Pollution: Bioplastics, when dispersed at sea, behave like traditional plastic, threatening marine life.
- Competition with Food: The production of raw materials for bioplastics can take away land dedicated to food production, creating an ethical dilemma.
- Separate Recycling: Bioplastics must be separated from the traditional plastic stream to be effectively recycled.
4. Demand for Sustainable Alternatives
Despite the challenges highlighted, growing environmental awareness and the demand for sustainable alternatives are driving technical innovation and research towards better solutions.
It is crucial that consumers and the industry fully understand the challenges associated with the use of bioplastics and work together to develop more sustainable solutions. The key lies in continuous innovation and the adoption of more eco-sustainable practices, in order to ensure a better future for our planet.