The Issue Against Bioplastics in Mitigating Climate Change

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The Issue Against Bioplastics in Mitigating Climate Change

Marine plastic pollution affects a lot of creatures like turtles, whales and seas. / Photo by: Rich Carey via Shutterstock

 

Our world has changed dramatically over the past few decades. With pollution, extinct or endangered animals, and our damaged ecosystem, our environment is becoming more and more harmful to live in. These are just some of the impacts brought about by human activity and the products we have developed, including plastics. In fact, our use of of plastic has turned into a global problem that has been difficult to address. 

From our streets and houses to open beaches and the ocean, plastics can now be found anywhere in the world. Recently, scientists also discovered that there are microplastics embedded deep in the Arctic ice. In fact, the world's population, made up of more than seven million people, produced over 320 million tons of plastic last 2016, which experts believe can increase by 2034. About 5.25 trillion macro and microplastic pieces are now floating in the ocean, weighing up to 269,000 tons. Because of this, recent studies have found that marine plastic pollution affects 100% of marine turtles, 59% of whales, 36% of seals, and 40% of seabird species. Every year, around 100,000 marine mammals and turtles are killed by these plastics. 

These plastics not only create problems for and cause the deaths of plants, wildlife, and the human population, but also negatively impact the natural environment in general. Although plastic may be helpful in our daily lives, its toxic compounds have been found to cause illnesses. In fact, plastics can affect the world's tiniest organisms like plankton. For instance, when animals accidentally ingest plastics in their body, this causes problems for the larger animals that depend on them for food. This means that plastics can also be present in the fish or other seafood we eat every day. 

According to LRS Recycles, plastics might end up taking hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill, burned during thermal destruction, or being taken to a recycling center to be repurposed. All of these have been proven to be detrimental to our ecosystem. 

New Alternative: Using Bioplastics

Since the impacts of plastic pollution have been being felt a lot worse than in previous years, a number of scientists and environmentalists have been finding alternatives and solutions to address this global issue. One of the solutions raised is the use of bioplastics instead. 

According to an article by Creative Mechanisms, bioplastics are products based on plant-based materials such as starch and cellulose that come from corn and sugarcane. Nowadays, bioplastics are utilized in several ways such as food containers, grocery bags, biodegradable utensils, and food packaging. Aside from that, the product can also be used for engineering grade applications including electrical and electronic housings and enclosures.

The use of bioplastics is regaining popularity. Compared to plastics, these products leave a smaller energy footprint and a less polluted ecosystem. Some of the problems it can address are the world's overflowing landfills and floating islands of trash, since they break down more quickly. Bioplastics are generally compostable. In a matter of weeks, they decay into natural materials that blend harmlessly with soil. 

Moreover, bioplastic is said to be very important since they are made from biodegradable and/or renewable resources. It can help reduce human reliance on fossil fuels, allowing manufacturers to diversify feedstocks and support sustainability initiatives. 

Are Bioplastics the Future? 

Since bioplastics were introduced, the public has begun to believe that these are the solution, since they are eco- and climate-friendly. However, a recent study has disagreed with this. 

A study conducted by researchers from the University of Bonn found that shifting to plant-based plastics could have less positive effects than expected. In fact, the increased usage of bioplastics the past few years is likely to generate more greenhouse gas emissions from cropland expansion across the globe. 

 

It was revealed in a study that usage of bioplastics can also be harmful as it brought massive deforestation to some countries. / Photo by: Chidchanok Rittichaisamran via 123rf

 

In an article by Science Daily, Dr. Neus Escobar from the Institute of Food and Resource Economics at the University of Bonn explained that the continuous production of bioplastics would actually change land use across the globe. "This could potentially lead to an increase in the conversion of forest areas to arable land. However, forests absorb considerably more CO2 than maize or sugar cane annually, if only because of their larger biomass," he said. The increasing demand for bioplastics in our planet has brought massive deforestation to some countries across the tropics.

To further study the impact of bioplastics on our environment, Dr. Escobar along with her colleagues, Salwa Haddad, Dr. Jan Börner and Dr. Wolfgang Britz, used an extended computer model that had been proven to calculate the impacts of biofuel policies. They found that it would take a long time for bioplastics to be beneficial. Moreover, consuming these alternatives in greater amounts would not really help mitigate climate change. "We recommend concentrating research efforts on these advanced bioplastics and bring them to market," they said. 

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