Over the past few years, the materials industry has transformed due to technological marvels shifting the focus towards sustainable production of materials rather than economy of scale.This transformation is taking place in the plastic industry as well. As the demand from ever-increasing population rises, synthetic plastic is being immensely used in daily life and in various industries. These synthetic plastic materials are harmful for environment due to the fact that they are non-bio-degradable. Less than 10% of all waste plastic is recycled across the globe; ~12% is incinerated; and 75-80% ends up in landfills or the environment. Even if they are buried or floating at sea, synthetic plastic takes hundreds of years to degrade. In the process, they create waste and are also harmful to marine life. In order to overcome these problems, biodegradable plastics have emerged as a potential alternative.

 

Most of the bio-plastics are currently made by using sugars derived from corn and sugarcane, and microorganisms. Currently, bio-plastics commands less than 5% share of the total plastics consumption market. However, we believe this demand to increase eight-fold in the next 10 to 12 years. Though bio-plastics have increasingly being promoted as a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based plastics, issue of green house emission has raised certain issues. Bioplastics are based on renewable raw materials such as maize, wheat, or sugarcane. These plants receive the CO2 required from the air through their leaves. Producing bio-plastics therefore consumes CO2 which compensates for the amount that is later released at end-of-life. Overall, their net greenhouse gas balance is zero. With the current level of demand, we can say that use of bio-plastics is helping to achieve sustainability. However, the future increase in demand for bio-plastics could potentially lead to an increase in the conversion of forest areas to arable land. It is evident that forests absorb considerably more CO2 than maize or sugar cane annually. Thus, we believe that an increasing demand for the “green” energy sources (in this case- maize, wheat, or sugarcane used for producing bio-plastics) would bring massive deforestation and could have a negative impact on the environment. Further, even if bio-based plastics are a promising option for reducing plastic waste, scaling them up will require significant investments, both for their manufacture and in special facilities for their disposal. Thus, we believe, there is an ample scope to find ways for making this technology truly sustainable and cost-effective.  

Tags: Advanced Chemicals & Materials Green Chemicals

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