Wednesday, August 11th, 2021 -- The growing problem of plastics polluting oceans and filling landfills is a prevalent issue known to most individuals around the world and, considering that most plastic items take up to 1000 years to decompose, it's definitely not sustainable. In order to solve this problem, bioplastics were created. A French researcher named Maurice Lemoigne invented the very first bioplastic, polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), in 1926, as a byproduct of his work with the bacterium Bacillus megaterium. Though this discovery was overlooked for decades, by the beginning of the 21st century, the methods of production, structures, and applications of numerous types of bioplastics were established.
The chemical links between the monomers of the bioplastics PHA and PLA (the plastics being developed and used around this time) degraded in water, making them highly desirable materials to be used in many products, such as biodegradable bottles and packaging film.
Fast forward to 2014, over 1.7 million metric tons of bioplastics were being produced globally, contributing to 32,000 jobs in the U.S. alone and over $4.4 billion in revenue. Additionally, with an expected annual growth of 20-30% a year, the bioplastic industry seemed very promising.
Even though this sounds like a great solution to the growing plastic pollution problem, its disadvantages still prevail. The increasing demand for bioplastics competes with many food sources (as many bioplastics are made of food items such as sugarcane), which creates a global food crisis. On top of that, bioplastics won’t easily decompose in landfills, as they need very specific conditions to be able to biodegrade. This mostly defeats the purpose of bioplastics, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for the future. Many companies are developing sustainable bioplastics, and the bioplastic industry continues to grow year by year.
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Bioplastics: plastic materials made from renewable biological resources instead of petroleum.
Monomers: small molecules that can chemically bond with other identical molecules to form even larger molecules called polymers.
Biodegradable: the characteristic of a product to be completely broken down into its natural elements by bacteria, fungi, etc.