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