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Breakthrough Technologies: Bioplastics

As the world’s population grows, so does the amount of garbage that people produce. The current modern lifestyle is intertwined with disposable plastic products. In 2014 alone, industry generated 311 million metric tons, an amount expected to triple by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum. Unfortunately, plastics are irreplaceable in modern society, as they have important physicochemical properties and they protect against contamination. The accumulation of plastic products results in an increasing amount of plastic pollution all around the world. To reduce its environmental impact, plastic is recycled. However, this alone is not sufficient to tackle the plastic problem, as only 8.4% of plastics are recycled.

An upcoming solution to decrease plastic packaging pollution is to replace conventional plastic with sustainably biodegradable materials, named bioplastics. This leads to a ‘circular’ plastic economy, where the plastics derive from and are converted back to biomass. These bioplastics are produced from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable fats and oils, corn starch and recycled food waste. Using these materials reduces CO2 emissions, as bioplastics are climate-neutral – each plant absorbs as much CO2 in its lifetime as it emits when it is burned or decomposes or converted into bioplastics, such as bioplastics that are developed to be home-compostable.

The use of these bioplastics seems like the best solution to combat the plastic pollution problem. However, certain obstacles must be overcome before all plastics can be replaced by bioplastics. The first is cost, bioplastics are more expensive to produce and therefore also more expensive for customers, which limits their uptake and use. Another is minimizing the amount of land and water used to produce them; there is still a high amount of water needed to produce most bioplastics. And of course, this novel plastic solution requires regulatory changes and social and behaviour changes in how the general population uses and disposes of plastics.

Despite these hurdles, the production of bioplastics is a great example of how a novel solution can make great impact and strive for circularity in a major industry. Therefore, we expect the increased use and innovation of bioplastics in the years to come. We are proud that several of our clients are leading the way in this essential transition away from conventional plastic, such as Plantics, who have developed a new type of thermoset bio-resins and thermoset bio-based materials.

Read our article ‘Emerging Technologies: Social Robots’

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