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Combat Pollution with Plant Plastics

Scientists are in the throws of groundbreaking work with plant fibers and starches to create new bioplastics that are completely biodegradable and compostable. Although we are making incredible progress, and considering the amount of research that still needs to be done in the field, it will be some time to come before plant plastics reaches the level where they dominate as a serious contender in the consumer product market. But, they are well on our way.

Unless you have been living under a rock, we are all by now well aware that plastic waste is an issue of epic proportions as only 9% of plastic is recycled, our oceans take on what seems to be a never ending supply, and we are rapidly running out of landfill space, while burning plastics only contributes to push the problem with greenhouse gas emissions and global warming factors.

Through innovative ideas and amazing technologies we are moving through a time of upcycling and into an age of recycled plastic tables, chairs, fabrics, and decor. However, for many current consumer products there is simply no commercially viable biodegradable options or alternatives. The plastic drinking straw is the perfect example with Primaplast, a leader in the plastic straw manufacturing industry, saying that eco alternatives cost substantially more to make.

Another prime example would be takeout coffee cups. In the United Kingdom alone approximately 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away every year. The majority of these cups are believed to be environmentally friendly and 100% recyclable. This is simply not true. A vast majority of commercially manufactured paper cups have a layer of polyethylene that makes the cup waterproof. Polyethylene itself is not recyclable.

Most traditional plastics are made from oil. There is amazing work being done with regards to bioplastics and the technology that assists in the process of creating plant plastic products. Biome Bioplastics is leading the way when it comes to disposable hospitality dispensers having developed a fully compostable and recyclable cup using materials such as potato starch, corn starch, and cellulose, the prime constituent of plant cell walls.

"Many consumers buy their cups in good faith, thinking they can be recycled," says Paul Mines, the Biome Bioplastics chief executive. "But most single-use containers are made from cardboard bonded with plastic, which makes them unsuitable for recycling. And the lids are most often made of polystyrene, which is currently not widely recycled." Biome Bioplastics has created a plant-based plastic that is completely biodegradable and disposable either as paper recycling or in the food waste bin. It is believed to be the first time that a bioplastic has been successfully manufactured to withstand hot liquids while being fully compostable and 100% recyclable. Biome Bioplastics as currently in discussions with a number of retailers in preparation for taking this tremendously well position product to market.

A row of other companies and research institutes are following suit including Full Cycle Bioplastics, Elk Packaging, and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. They are all working on similar biopolymer solutions that are more environmentally friendly but equally as functional as conventional plastics. The time for pushing plastic pollution out has truly arrived.