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Name: Kathleen
Status: student
Grade: n/a
Country: Philippines
Date: Summer 2009

What is the significance of using bioplastics instead of plastics?


Bioplastic is a term used to designate plastic materials that have been produced from renewable resources such corn or other vegetable oils as opposed to synthetic plastics which are primarily derived from petroleum.

The immediate significance of such materials is that fossil fuels are not a renewable resource and so the production of synthetic plastics uses up this valuable resource.

However, the true significance of such bioplastics have to be balanced against the fact that modern production of corn and agricultural products require petroleum-based industries that produce: fertilizer, fuel for farm machinery, etc.

I will leave it up to you to determine if the cost of producing bioplastics from vegetable matter balances the gains of not using up petroleum.

Greg (Roberto Gregorius)
Canisius College

Bioplastics are polymers made from natural sources like plants. Typical plastics are made from petroleum. Bioplastics -- and bio-based materials in general -- are attracting interest for many reasons. The first reason is sustainability. Plants are a renewable feed stock, while petroleum is not renewable. It is expected that petroleum production will continue to decline. Second is price volatility. Many bio-based feed stocks have less volatile prices (smaller fluctuations) than petroleum, which makes bio-based materials more economically desirable. A third reason is national security. Countries that do not produce enough petroleum are looking for ways to reduce their dependence on petroleum; using locally sourced materials is one way to do so. A fourth reason is "environmental friendliness" -- bio-based materials are perceived by many people as "healthier" and "safer" -- although this is not always true.

Hope this helps,
Burr Zimmerman

Hi Kathleen,

The significance of using so-called Bioplastics is that they are made from renewable sources, and thus it is claimed they have less impact on the environment than tradition types of plastics that are made from fossil fuels (oil or coal). The claimed environmental friendliness of bioplastics is often called into question, however, since the energy needed to process them is generally derived from fossil fuels.

Most bioplastics do not exhibit the strength needed for many applications, or have other problems that limit their uses, such as moisture absorption that causes dimensional changes or makes them useless for (for example) water bottles.

Traditional plastic materials used oil or coal as a starting point in their manufacture. These types of plastics are designed to achieve specific requirements, such as high strength, or flexibility, or chemical resistance, etc. Bioplastics on the other hand are first and foremost intended to be made from renewable sources such as starch, sugars, or ethanol. Their mechanical strength and resistance to chemicals are only of secondary importance.

As a result of the above disadvantages, the use of bioplastics today is still very limited.

Bob Wilson

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