Plastic is a boon to the industrial revolution. From laptops to industrial applications, plastic has become an irremovable part. What’s more, a world without plastic is unimaginable. However, the overuse of plastic now made a curse to the environment.
Plastic use escalated so quickly that we used for endless daily needs including plastic bag, straws, cups, containers, and so on. Currently, around 8 million tons of plastic waste are dumped into the world’s ocean, harming the underwater ecosystem. Plastic is now a part of the world’s deepest parts of ocean and it will remain there for eons.
Plastic takes ages to break down, in some cases hundreds of years, causing irrevocable harm to landfills and oceans. However, there are different kinds of plastics such as biodegradable plastic. This material breaks down by the use of living microorganisms into the water, gases such as CO2 and methane, and biomass. Bioplastic is derived from plant-based sources including corn, sugar, and plant-based byproducts such as corn husks and wood bark.
Although it takes several weeks to six months to break down biodegradable plastic, it is a far better alternative to conventional plastic. The surge in consumer adoption of biodegradable plastics due to their eco-friendly nature and high demand from the food packaging industry drive the demand for biodegradable plastic. According to Allied Market Research, the Europe biodegradable plastics market is expected to reach $1.9 billion by 2027, registering a CAGR of 10.9% from 2020 to 2027.
Potential uses and challenges of bioplastic:
The major end-user of plastic is the packaging industry. Thus, bioplastic can be used in packaging instead of regular plastic. The performance of bioplastic and petrochemical plastic is similar, which makes them ideal in various applications. Moreover, bioplastics need to be reformulated to match the performance with petrochemical plastic.
Biodegradable plastic can be used in the manufacturing of interior trim components and cell phone cases and other accessories. Another form of biodegradable plastic is manufactured from polylactic acid (PLA), which is used in packaging products and clothing. However, it has a low melting point, which prevents its use with hot liquids and foods.
Just because biodegradable plastic is somewhat eco-friendly, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. They are more expensive than conventional plastics. The conventional plastic production industry is well set, which means its production chain is efficient than newly introduced biodegradable plastic. Thus, for large-scale adoption of biodegradable plastic, established companies and major consumers of plastics must switch to biodegradable plastic.
Application of biodegradable plastics
Apart from the packaging and automotive industry, plastic is a major part of the healthcare industry. From face masks and PPE kits to implants, plastic is an instrumental part of the healthcare sector. However, biodegradable plastic has found its way into this industry.
For instance, amg International GmbH, a major developer and manufacturer of stent implantation received a European CE Mark Approval for its UNITY-B™ Biodegradable Stent. The company has been working on developing biodegradable implants and now its UNITY-B has become the world’s first CE-approved pancreaticobiliary biodegradable implant. Such applications of biodegradable plastics offer a potential chance to minimize complication rates and procedural costs for the removal of implants.
The major share of end-use of plastic in Europe is by the packaging sector as it is durable and lightweight. However, biodegradable plastic has the potential to minimize overall environmental impact, especially if it is used in agricultural applications. Moreover, it can reduce overall soil microplastics, which has been a major concern in European countries. In other applications where durability is required, bridgeable plastics can be reformulated into oxo-degradability. This way, biodegradable plastics could take over around 50% of conventional plastic production.
The use of biodegradable plastic is increasing in European countries. While some companies deploy bioplastic in closed systems such as hospital campuses and universities, where other companies focus on recycling. If the production chain is properly streamlined, it is possible to recover 100% of bioplastic products and recycle them. This way, we could reduce the harmful effects of plastic on the environment significantly. As the market for biodegradable plastics is increasing slowly and steadily, we are bound to witness a fruitful improvement in the coming decade.