Recent concerns over the use of more environmentally sound approaches to making plastics have brought on a whole new industry. Bioplastics, or plastics made from corn starch, wheat and sugar cane are designed to break down quickly and do not contaminate the environment using petroleum based processes. Despite great progress, petrochemical-source plastics are still in use but their days may be numbered.
Professor Moshe Kol from the School of Chemistry University in Tel Aviv is one of the pioneers of this industry. Professor Kol’s team is working to build stronger polymers that are more heat resistant. Having already produced several new catalysts, Professor Kol’s team is currently expanding its efforts to work with the University of Bath in England and University of Aachen in Germany.
One of the hurdles in implementing biodegradable bags and bioplastic cups and utensils is cost. Although these products are available at affordable prices, many stores still prefer bargain basement and name brand manufacturers. Unfortunately, the status quo of major manufacturers is to sell the public on the idea of products made from recycled plastic. While this gives plastic a second chance, it sidesteps the issue of how to remove this material from the environment and how to reduce our dependence on petrochemical-based products.
Today’s bioplastics can withstand temperatures up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit and can even be made into clear plastics for drinking cups and film wrappers. Although great initiatives have been taken to offer these products more affordably, it is still not uncommon for manufacturers and dealers to cut corners on quantities and sizes to increase margins.
While some dealers have taken initiatives to go beyond industry standards, others often miss the mark. In Italy, the Unicoop supermarket chain has partnered with Novamont and IPU to produce biodegradable bags using Mater-Bio, a starch-based biopolymer resin. Produced in accordance to the EN 13432 standard, these bags begin to degradable in as little as 1 to 3 months and are 100 percent compostable.
Despite great examples of more eco-friendly practices in some countries, the United States continues to lag behind favoring free enterprise over what is truly right for the planet. This policy also means more unnecessary reliance on petroleum-based products and inevitably, higher taxes for additional landfill costs. Unfortunately, these arguments and the effects on wildlife have not been enough to persuade major manufacturers as well as dealers to change their ways. Until companies realize that we need to do more than just take the easy approach, excessive petroleum byproducts will contaminate the air we breathe, water we drink and soil we depend on.