Eco-friendly and Sustainability are both words which legally mean nothing and are not policed by anyone other than the companies own conscience. You might think being eco-friendly isn’t bad no matter what but sometimes it can completely screw the existing systems and make more waste than before. I’ve just spent some time looking through a lot of biopolymers recently and a lot of them tout that they are the next big thing so look out polypropylene a plastic made from rape seed oil by products is going to come save us or is it? The new bio polymers often have real benefits don’t get me wrong. They can even offer new options when it comes to plastics. Give different textures, new applications and some are just amazing but not using oil does not necessarily make a plastic better for the environment. Why is that? Well you need to imagine the plastic after it’s stopped being useful; so we are skipping questions about the usable lifetime of the product that might come from using more durable plastics and getting right to what happens when the product goes in the bin.
Lifocork is from the library but is not a bio polymer it instead is a mixture or regular plastics and and sustainable materials. However a lot of what I talk about here is applicable to those solutions to.
What happens after we are done with it?
Quick note if your chosen biopolymer composts or biodegrades on it’s own without taking five hundred five hundred years then ignore this section.
Weirdly enough most people seem to think that just because a plastic has a bio content in it will just melt away, rotting like wood. Unfortunately for us a lot of bio plastics are just as durable as those made from dead dinosaurs, what this means is that the plastic will hang around just like regular plastic. This is not necessarily worse than plastics until you have a think about it. Who is set up to get rid of these plastics? Many plastics need to be composted industrially, heated to high temperatures to start the break down process. There’s not many of these plants and fewer still will be set up for the peculiarities of each new bio-plastic, hell we still struggle to deal with the plastics we’ve already got.
That’s fine you might say I’ll recycle it like I’m meant to!
Can anyone recycle it?
A top plastic to recycle is PET from water bottles. PET is found everywhere is kept similar across the industry so it’s not too hard to recycle bottles from different manufacturers making it efficient to recycle. Other plastics don’t see anywhere near the recycling levels and there are very few facilities for specialist plastics. So what happens when your particular oddball biopolymer comes to be recycled? It’s probably binned. Unless the application is on a grand scale or the company that supplies it has a great system for retrieving used products it’s not going to be efficient for anyone to recycle that plastic.
So what you might ask only 5% of plastic gets recycled at least I’m not polluting as much.
Arnitel Eco is a true biopolymer and is made from rape seed.
Less pollution but maybe something else.
I’ve encountered some really nice biopolymers made from rapeseed. It feels nice and looks exactly like any other dinosaur based plastic, it’s oven safe, food safe and bends and in some cases flexes like rubber, whelp too bad its starving people. That’s dramatic but it is the terrifying scenario posed by some who envisage a world where people go hungry so other can enjoy plastics produced using arable land that would otherwise produce crops. It’s also not as farfetched as it seems considering we consume over three hundred million tons of plastic per year worldwide, the arable land needed would be massive. We can’t just ignore the looming oil crisis but plastic made from renewable resources which take away land from other vital concerns is not the answer.
So why bother?
Because something needs to change! Long term we need something new; either by looking at new materials which incorporate waste products or renewable sources which don’t add to this problem or by working to use the same biopolymers across the board. Lego is currently looking into creating a biopolymer alternative and when it’s released I’m sure there’ll be a way to recycle or compost it so using those polymers rather just picking one with the lowest carbon footprint might be how things can start to change and Lego is not the only company on this path. Maybe in the short term you can’t recycle something but if these plastics get coordinated help then an infrastructure of reuse and proper disposal can grow around them. So I’m sorry for the doom and gloom but don’t white wash products with biopolymers just because you can, look at them like any other plastic that might end up in a landfill.