• Sara Mokhtari

A sustainable choice: alternatives to plastic

In 2018, media attention on the issue of plastic waste in the environment increased. The issue of marine debris has begun to attract more attention to the use of plastics and end-of-life solutions for this material. Plastic has become the ubiquitous work material of the modern economy and the use of plastic packaging has grown exponentially around the world, but options for blocking and handling this material have proved inadequate. In fact, the very attributes that make plastic so useful make it a problem even at the end of its life.


Plastic does not degrade and can remain in the environment (even in landfills) for decades. When plastic isn't handled properly, it can end up in rivers and streams and, eventually, the ocean. Speaking of this, Canada's prime minister has decided to ban the use of single-use plastics as early as 2021, and based on this is inspired by Trudeau said his government is inspired by the European Parliament, which voted in March in an overwhelming way to impose a wide-ranging ban on single-use plastics to tackle pollution from discarded items that end up in waterways and fields.

“To be honest, as a dad, it's hard to try to explain this to my kids. How do you explain dead whales bathing on beaches all over the world, stomachs full of plastic bags?” Trudeau said.





For many consumers, understanding what bioplastics are and distinguishing this material from normal plastic is not obvious.


As a first step, we try to analyze the first main difference between normal plastic and bioplastic: plastic is a material discovered more than 100 years ago, of very wide use, thanks to its characteristics of versatility, resistance, and low cost. The plastic has remarkable mechanical and heat resistance. Plastic materials have, in some ways, excellent characteristics: they are easy to work with, they are resistant to aging and corrosion, they are practically immune to mold, fungi, and bacteria, they are very economical.


The first main difference between normal plastic and bioplastic is that the last one can be made from more natural materials, such as corn, cereals, and beets.



What are the advantages of this material? First of all, plastic is made from crude oil which is a fossil fuel which you can find deep in the earth and it’s a non-renewable resource, so once we finish it, it’s done. Bioplastics are made of renewable resources instead, such as cassava, potatoes, and corn. We are able to turn these things that keep on growing also into plastic, which means we don’t need fossil fuels. It can replace many materials that we already use today, and due to this analogy the production processes are also very similar: for example, a normal plastic cup, and a bioplastic cup, both look and feel very similar, transparent, lightweight, flexible but also the way how they’re made is very similar, made with the same kind of machinery and molds so you don’t need to build completely new infrastructure but you can just use the existing one and only replace the material.


And finally, probably the biggest benefit is precisely the method that is used: you have a large number of plants and they have turned into clear plastic, so once you're done you can just throw it away and it degrades in nature because it's "compostable". However, something that is made from natural materials does not mean that it biodegrades.


Biodegradability is the ability of the material to be broken down by natural microorganisms.

Compostability takes advantage of biodegradability, so a compostable material is always biodegradable, but the reverse is not possible.





The difference between biodegradable and compostable material lies in the way they are disposed of: a compostable material disintegrates in less than 3 months while for a biodegradable material 90% of the biodegradable material within 6 months.


Even normal plastic at one point was the oil that also comes from a plant, but because it is so refined and processed it no longer biodegrades on its own.


Unfortunately, there are still many obstacles in the transition to bioplastic. For example, it has a much higher cost than traditional plastic and the fear that the problem of the availability of some food supplies for the production of this material will arise, is high, due to the lack of control and guarantee of the crops from which the biomass is extracted.


The sugar cane from which the bioplastic of bottles is made is grown in Brazil. The crops have low use of water and the entire production cycle is carefully monitored to assess the environmental and social impact as a whole, and the balance of the ethical "code of conduct" that is adopted is very positive, in fact, it safeguards not only the environment but also all the people involved in the production cycle.

The energy used to produce bioplastic is also obtained by 80% from renewable sources.


Another essential key point, the waste management behind bioplastics.

Landfills are designed only to store waste, not to break it down. Unfortunately, the rate at which we produce waste exceeds that of natural biodegradation. As a result, landfills are filling up rapidly, which increases pollution of the air, water, and soil. In 2014 alone, 136 million tons of municipal solid waste was landfilled, 18% of which was plastic.

The disposal of non-biodegradable plastics is unsustainable because they often follow a linear economic model in which virgin products are manufactured, used once, and disposed of, accumulating in landfills or in the natural environment.





Although recycling is regarded as the solution to many ills, only 9% of the plastic produced since 1950 has been recycled. Recycling simply delays disposal, which is why biodegradation and composting should also be considered solutions. Biodegradable plastic helps direct waste away from landfills and composting plants.

Looking at alternatives to recycling will become more important in light of recent global events.

For decades, the United States has relied on China to recycle its plastic waste. As of January 2018, China no longer accepts plastics in an effort to protect the health of its citizens. This puts greater pressure on home recycling infrastructures, forcing the US to further explore alternative waste solutions such as industrial composting.

Thus, government incentives and consumer expectations must first shift towards composting and biodegradation. This will influence the plastics industry to value biodegradable and compostable plastics versus petroleum-based plastics. The current waste management system offers convenience to consumers and businesses.


However, it took decades for it to happen. As such, implementing a circular economy, in which plastic is biodegraded, recycled, or composted, and arranging it so that it becomes as affordable as the current system is, will take time.


What are the real advantages of using bioplastics? They allow to optimize the collection and management of waste and to reduce the environmental impact, bringing significant advantages to the production-consumption-disposal cycle.

With the right communication, it could also achieve greater consumer acceptance and demand, an increase in the useful life of packaged products, and composting where possible.


For example, disposable tableware and disposable containers such as packaging have a huge effect on the environment: they are difficult to recycle if contaminated with food and are often not handled properly by the consumer. Instead, if made from compostable plastic, they can be disposed of with organic waste and converted into compost. Almost all producers of domestic coffee capsules are moving on this wave.


There are also other changes we can all make - alternatives that could help cut single-use plastics out of our daily lives.


  1. Design special containers with orange peels

The young designer Ori Sonnenschein has created a line of tableware: plates, glasses, cutlery, trays made with orange peels called, Solskin Peels. The orange peel is manipulated to obtain the desired shape and treated so that they can maintain a certain rigidity such as to allow their real use. The processing ends with the coating of an organic material called ‘shellaq’ which allows the object to keep its shape intact for a certain period. Each tool is clearly 100% biodegradable.






2. Avocado seeds are transformed into bioplastic this time!

You will surely know the famous Guacamole sauce that is prepared from avocado. Here, the idea of using avocado seeds was really good as they accumulate in Mexico like nowhere else in the world and end up being burned in landfills. Now from this fruit, and precisely from its seeds, it is possible to make a special, completely biodegradable plastic. After trying to make it unsuccessfully with other raw materials, such as mango and mamey sapote seeds (the Caribbean apricot), the possibility of using avocado seeds was experimented with. After about a year and a half of research, the avocado-based bioplastic was born, whose products degrade after 240 days of exposure to the elements or planted in the ground while their fossil fuel-based equivalents can take more than 100 years.





3. Straws made with algae.

The American phenomenon is all born from another waste, that of ice. Since Americans drink nothing, and in any season, without ice, the straw becomes almost indispensable for them. And then down with the plastic which then ends up promptly in some landfill.

The straws made from seaweed were patented by two American designers, Chelsea Briganti and Leigh Ann Tucker, who created an entire collection, called Loliware, with household products that can replace plastic. From glasses to cutlery, passing through coffee glasses.

The straws of the designer couple have different colors and also different flavors: vanilla, mint, strawberry, and caramel. All excellent alternatives to the horrible plastic that instead not only doesn't create flavors but kills them.





4. Reusable coffee cups.

Disposable cups cannot be recycled with normal systems because they are made of cardboard with a tightly bonded polyethylene liner, which is difficult to remove. As a result, only one in 400 cups is recycled, less than 0.25%. Half a million cups of coffee are scattered across the UK every day. “It is very encouraging to see the increase in sales of reusable cups, which are the most environmentally friendly option for coffee on the go. We would also like to see greater availability of recycling facilities for existing cups, as our Square Mile Challenge campaign has shown that the public is very willing to use them when they have the chance, " said Trewin Restorick, CEO of the charity. for the Hubbub environment Hubbub.





5. Bioplastic from cactus juice!

Mexican researcher Sandra Pascoe Ortiz succeeded in her aim of making a material similar to plastic but completely natural that could replace plastic in the manufacture of everyday objects, including disposable ones such as cutlery and plastic bags, starting from the juice of the leaves of the cactus.

The procedure for making this plastic seems quite simple: after removing the peel of the leaves, the pulp is centrifuged to obtain the juice, which will then be refrigerated.

At this point, a non-toxic substance is added to the liquid obtained from the cactus, which allows the juice to transform into a material similar to plastic. The liquid is then poured into a thin layer, pressed, and left to dry.

Glycerol, natural waxes, proteins, and dyes are added to the juice after it has been decanted to remove the fibers. The result is then dried on a boiling table to produce thin sheets of plastic material.





Remember that is in our hands to start doing things better for our planet. As a caring entity, we promote this information through our suppliers so they can also increase their level of commitment to sustainability.


#circulareconomy #wastemanagement #sustainableenvironment #sustainableplanet

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