The Sustainability of Bio-Plastics

by Todd McDonald on May 10, 2012

Stay health by getting plenty of sleep – at least eight hours a night. But keep in mind, too much sleep can lower your energy levels and lead to weight gain…

Don’t forget to wear sunscreen whenever you go outside. But remember, lack of exposure to sunlight can lead to Vitamin D deficiency and weakening of the bones…

Drinking coffee can lower your risk for liver cancer, and even improve your cognitive function. But bear in mind, drinking coffee can also increase your heart rate and blood pressure, and may even cause an irregular heartbeat…

Odds are you’ve heard contradictory advice such as this at some point. It’s frustrating and confusing. And it’s not just limited to health & diet recommendations.

Take the recent study, Sustainability of bio-plastics: general comparative analysis and recommendations for improvement, by Kenneth Geiser et al (published in the Journal of Cleaner Production) – which found that currently there aren’t any fully sustainable bio-based plastics in commercial use or under development and that their production even poses a number of environmental and occupational health and safety risks.

This may come as a surprise, especially to some in the packaging industry, where bio-plastics seem to be at the height of popularity. In fact, the market for bio-plastics is forecast to grow at an average annual rate of about 25 percent through 2015, with production reaching 884,000 tons by 2020.

As Dabny Hoover (senior resource specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council) states in Mary Catherine O’Connor’s Earth Island Journal article Compostable or Recyclable? Why Bioplastics Are Causing an Environmental Headache, “Confusion is rampant right now. A lot of people are focused on biodegradability, but that’s misleading and doesn’t mean it’s always better for the environment.”

“In some cases, a material that is bio-based but designed for recycling might be the better option. The mere fact that something is bio-based doesn’t make it a clear winner environmentally,” O’Connor added.

So where does that leave us?

At TEQ, we typically advise our customers to take a conservative approach, avoiding drastic changes (such as the use of a different raw material) until more data is available. Instead, we focus our efforts on helping our clients re-examine their workflow process and supply chains to identify opportunities to reduce their carbon footprint while also design products that can be easily recycled.

What are your recommendations when it comes to bio plastics?

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