Bioplastics not an eco-friendly alternative to plastic: study

• A study was conducted by the University of Bonn in Germany on the use of bioplastics and its effects on the environment.

Vital highlights

• Bioplastics often promoted as a climate-friendly alternative to petroleum-based plastics may lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

• Bioplastics are in principle climate-neutral since they are based on renewable raw materials such as maize, wheat or sugar cane.

• These plants get the CO2 that they need from the air through their leaves.

• Producing bioplastics therefore consumes CO2, which compensates for the amount that is later released at end-of-life.

• Overall, their net greenhouse gas balance is assumed to be zero. Bioplastics are thus often consumed as an environmentally friendly alternative.

• The current level of technology, this issue is probably not as clear as often assumed. This is because the production of bioplastics in large amounts would change land use globally.

• 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.

Concerns over the increased use of plastics:

• Plastics are usually made from petroleum, with the associated impacts in terms of fossil fuel depletion but also climate change.

• The carbon embodied in fossil resources is suddenly released to the atmosphere by degradation or burning, hence contributing to global warming.

• This corresponds to about 400 million metric tonnes of CO2 per year worldwide, almost half of the total greenhouse gases that Germany emitted to the atmosphere in 2017.

• It is estimated that by 2050, plastics could already be responsible for 15% of the global CO2 emissions.

Main advantages of bioplastics:

• They can reduce our carbon footprint.

• Less consumption of non-renewable raw materials.

• A reduction of non-biodegradable waste, which contaminates the environment.

• Increased energy savings in terms of production.

• Fewer harmful additives such as phthalates or bisphenol A.

• No adverse change to flavour or scent in food stored in bioplastic containers.


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

Prelims Level: Bioplastics

Mains Level: Issues associated with bioplastics

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