Eco-friendly bioplastics inspire innovation

Packaging made by bioplastics (Cellulose-based...

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I am very excited about the new developments in bioplastics research! Within the past few years there have been numerous new-to-market plastic products that either decompose in the landfill or make the recycling process cheaper, easier and more environmentally friendly.

One company from France has launched a plastic “coffee pod” (like the kind used in Keurig® and other machines) that is 100 percent biodegradable. Consumers can put their pods right in their backyard garden without any worries about landfill waste. And that’s just the beginning of more bioplastics ingenuity to come, as I wrote about in my weekly column. Check it out:


How long does your trash live in the landfill?

For glass bottles, the time for it to degrade can be thousands of years or more. Plastics are an improvement, but many of them can still have a life span that is measured in decades. Fortunately new plastic materials being developed are shortening that time considerably.

Today’s new “green” plastics are being made of unconventional biodegradable materials — even milk curd. It’s all possible because of bioplastics, an innovative polymer technology that is transforming the plastics industry.

In spite of volunteer and mandatory recycling programs, environmentalists have long been concerned with the plastic that remains in the waste stream. According to Penn State University scientists, it may take up to 20 years for plastic grocery bags to break down, and some plastic containers will take 80 years to decompose. Some plastic, like those of the collars huddling six-packs can take an estimated 450 years before showing signs of decomposition.

In research labs around the world, we’re seeing bioplastic engineering teams that are making great strides in addressing this problem.

For example, Barcelona-based researchers have developed a bioplastic for food packaging that is based on whey protein. Whey is a by-product of cheese processing; it is essentially milk curd. The material dissolves in water, and this makes the plastic much easier to recycle and decompose. European cheese factories are currently discarding a large percentage of their whey, but if this “waste” can be utilized as a packaging material it is a win-win for both the factories and for the environment.

The development of whey-based bioplastics is another example of an effort that requires open partnerships. Fourteen different producers and researchers have come together to implement this technology on a larger scale to produce containers, trays and plastic films.

Bioplastics from agricultural materials like corn are also being injected into new consumer product spaces. In France, the Demetz company has launched the first biodegradable sunglasses, called B-wear. These eco-friendly sunglasses use polymers derived from castor oil and corn and are claimed to degrade in months in industrial compost or in just a few years in a natural setting.

Another French company, Vegeplast, is creating a splash in the coffee pod industry by launching its 100 percent biodegradable bio-pods. After using the coffee pod, it can be put into an organic waste bin or even composted in the garden. The company has also developed bioplastic components for products like golf tees, disposable spoons and forks, and even chewable dog bones.

Look for bioplastics partnerships and innovation to continue to grow and inspire new products in the months ahead. With more of these innovative products and more effective recycling programs, we can all look forward to a cleaner, tidier environment.

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