Environmentally friendly plastic is an excellent alternative to conventional petroleum-based plastics; this help reduces the environmental impact. This article will teach about ecologically friendly plastics, their benefits, disadvantages, and real-world applications for a sustainable future.
The Environmental Impact of Traditional Plastics
Conventional plastics have a significant impact on the environment for several reasons. Firstly, these plastics are not biodegradable. They take years to decompose—Moreover, more than 8 million tons of plastic yearly damage marine life.
Also, plastic is the most significant cause of environmental pollution worldwide. Hence, it dramatically impacts our ecosystem, including human health.
While all of the above sounds bad, there’s more to it. Traditional plastic production also plays a vital role in damaging our environment. For example, the raw materials used to produce traditional plastic include natural gas and petroleum.
Both of these materials contribute to climate change and potent greenhouse gas emissions. On top of it, the whole production process consumes high amounts of energy and generates an equally disturbing amount of waste.
Lastly, the greatest threat to the environment is single-use plastic. Since single-use plastic cannot be reused, it creates massive pollution and a higher demand catalyzing the growing plastic problem.
It also adds to the cost of cleaning up plastic waste, hurting the economy. As a result, more and more global businesses are shifting towards environmentally friendly plastics.
What are Bioplastics, and How Do They Work?
Plastics that are made from renewable sources are referred to as bioplastics. They have an eco-friendly production process using renewable sources such as potato starch, sugar cane, or corn starch. Moreover, bioplastics tend to emit fewer greenhouse gases compared to conventional plastics.
On top of it, these types of plastics are compostable and biodegradable, making them more environmentally friendly. Let’s have a look at the two main types of bioplastics before we get into the details of products and applications:
Biodegradable plastics are produced using plant-based materials, petrochemicals, and other biodegradable elements such as PBAT and PCL. These have some form of petrochemical which only makes them somewhat environmentally friendly. However, they still prove to be an excellent alternative to traditional plastics.
This type of plastic comes entirely from renewable resources. These include starch-based plants, polylactic acid (PLA), and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA). Biobased plastics are environmentally friendly and have greater environmental benefits than biodegradable plastics.
In short, bioplastics offer several advantages over traditional plastics, such as helping reduce the carbon footprint and plastic waste. However, bioplastics are not without flaws and weaknesses, which we will delve into.
Manufacturers use a wide range of production techniques to produce bioplastics. The most common ones include enzymatic, fermentation, and chemical synthesis processes.
In contrast to the traditional rubber vulcanization process, bioplastic production typically starts with the extraction of raw materials followed by a series of processing steps to transform them into the final product. These steps differ from rubber vulcanization in that they involve chemical reactions and modifications that result in a new material rather than the cross-linking of existing ingredients.
The advantages and disadvantages of bioplastics are a different debate. However, we first need to understand where we can use these bioplastics. Here are some typical applications of bioplastics in various industries:
- Agricultural Industry: this industry uses bioplastic in the form of biodegradable mulch films, irrigation pipes, and seedling trays. It works as a superb alternative to its traditional plastic counterparts, reducing the effect of toxic plastic elements.
- Disposable Products Industry: bioplastics are widely used to produce disposable products. The most prominent examples include plates, cutlery, and cups. These products can be composted once used thanks to bioplastic and its properties.
- Electronics Plastics Industry: this industry uses bioplastics to produce eco-friendly cases for cellphones, laptops, and other accessories. Moreover, some manufacturers also use bioplastic components in their devices.
- Medical Plastics Industry: this industry uses bioplastic to produce medical implants so they don’t harm the body. Examples include bioplastic pins and screws, which doctors often implant in humans for various reasons.
- Packaging Plastics Industry: this industry uses bioplastics more than any other industry. Product examples include packaging plastic bags, containers, trays, films, etc. This is an excellent alternative to single-use plastic packaging.
- Construction Industry: bioplastic can also be used for insulation in construction sites. Moreover, construction companies also use biodegradable composite materials for building structures.
These are just a few prominent industries that use bioplastics. In reality, you will find many other industries that also use this alternative to traditional plastics, such as the automotive and toy industries.
Pros and Cons of Bioplastics
As discussed earlier, bioplastics have their pros as well as cons. This tells us that while traditional plastics don’t offer a perfectly eco-friendly solution, bioplastics aren’t the best either. Let’s have a look at both their pros and cons:
Pros of Bioplastics:
- Reduced Carbon Footprint: bioplastics help reduce the overall carbon footprint. How come? Compared to traditional plastics, which use petroleum-based materials, bioplastics do not require any fossil fuels for production. Hence, they significantly reduce the overall carbon footprint.
- Versatile: bioplastics have numerous applications in the real world. This makes them highly versatile and offers businesses to use them in various ways, including for textile, medical products, and packaging materials. Bioplastics can entirely replace conventional plastic if efforts are made.
- Biodegradable: as the name suggests, one of the standout pros of bioplastics remains their biodegradability. This means you can easily find bioplastics that manufacturers specifically design to biodegrade quickly. This helps reduce environmental pollution as these plastics don’t leave any harmful materials behind.
- Renewable Resources: unlike traditional plastic, bioplastics require renewable resources for production. This allows for an infinite display of bioplastic products without worrying about running out of non-renewable fossils. On top of it, the production process also helps reduce the environmental impact.
Cons of Bioplastics:
- Cost: while bioplastics offer a great eco-friendly plastics alternative, they come at a high price. Manufacturers claim bioplastic production costs more than traditional plastic production, which may only be feasible for a few businesses.
- Water and Land: Bioplastic production also uses a vast land area and high amounts of water. This comes at a compromise of using the same resources for food production and other essential materials.
- Crop Usage: some types of bioplastics also use crops as raw material. Here again, this comes at a compromise since the same crops could also be used to produce food. Hence, it creates competition for resources where we have to prefer food over plastic.
- Recycling Challenges: Bioplastics are environmentally friendly but don’t offer easy recycling. Bioplastics can contaminate plastic recycling streams instead.
Understanding Recycled Plastics
The next in line for a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional plastics is recycled plastics. These use post-consumer waste, including plastic bags, plastic bottles, packaging, etc., as raw materials for recycling.
Recyclers use a standardized process that involves collecting, sorting, cleaning, and processing plastic dumps to transform them into usable consumer products.
Moreover, the two main types of recycled plastics are post-consumer (PCR) and post-industrial (PIR). The former comes from consumer plastic waste, while the latter comes from industrial plastic dumps.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Recycled Plastics
Just like bioplastics and traditional plastics, recycled plastics have advantages and disadvantages. Let’s have a detailed look at both:
- Recycled plastics are reusable. This means you can use them multiple times without investing in new products every time.
- It also helps reduce the overall plastic dump found in the environment, especially landfills.
- The production process for recycled plastics requires less energy than virgin plastic production. As a result, this leads to a reduction in the overall carbon footprint.
- Recycled plastic is more prone to contaminants and impurities, which can be harmful.
- Virgin plastic has good durability and strength. However, when recycled, the plastic loses its durability and strength, which limits its applications.
Real-world Applications of Recycled Plastics
Recycled plastics have a wide range of real-world applications, including:
- Construction: the construction industry uses recycled plastics to create roofing tiles, insulation, and piping.
- Automotive industry: this industry uses recycled plastics to produce automotive parts, such as dashboards, door panels, and bumpers.
- Packaging: the plastic packaging industry uses recycled plastics to make various types of packaging, such as plastic containers, plastic bottles, plastic bags, and plastic wraps.
- Toys: This industry uses recycled plastics for toys, reducing the environmental impact of traditional plastic toys.
- 3D printing: this industry uses recycled plastics as a raw material for 3D printing, allowing for the creation of a wide range of objects.
- Furniture: manufacturers in this industry use recycled plastics to create outdoor furniture. It is highly durable and withstands exposure to UV rays and harsh weather.
- Urban infrastructure: The industry uses recycled plastics, such as park benches and trash cans, to produce urban infrastructure.
- Clothing: Recycled plastics can create textiles and clothing items like fleece jackets and swimwear.
- Electronics: manufacturers also use recycled plastics to produce electronic devices, such as computer cases and keyboards.
These are just some common examples of real-world applications for recycled plastics. At Hongju, we strongly believe in recycling and remolding plastic dumped into the customer’s desired shape, size, and color.
We offer complete authority over the outcome to our customers in pursuit of making this environment healthier and customers happier.
Innovative Alternatives to Traditional Plastics
Fortunately for our planet, bioplastics and recycled plastics are not the only alternatives to conventional plastics. Innovators have come up with unique options which have their pros and cons. These include:
- Edible Plastic: for this, manufacturers use milk protein to produce edible plastic products. As a result, it offers a safe plastic alternative, especially for food products.
- Mushroom-based Materials: This innovative alternative to traditional plastic uses the root structure of mushrooms called mycelium. The packaging industry often uses this as an alternative to conventional plastic packaging.
- Algae-based Plastics: these plastics have high biodegradability. Moreover, it’s easy to produce them since algae are abundant and overgrow, so there is never an issue with raw materials.
Pros and Cons of Innovative Plastic Alternatives
Like all other alternatives to conventional plastics, innovative plastic options have pros and cons. These include:
- Innovative plastic alternatives offer a biodegradable, compostable, and environmentally friendly solution to traditional plastic.
- They provide innovative solutions for food packaging and products.
- These alternatives can significantly help in the reduction of plastic pollution.
- They may have limitations in terms of durability, strength, and flexibility.
- The production of these alternatives may require additional resources or energy.
- These alternatives are relatively new and may not be widely available or affordable.
The Future of Environmentally Friendly Plastics: Challenges and Opportunities
Given the current state of the world and the plastic problem, the future of environmentally friendly plastics seems bright. We will see a rise in demand as the world becomes more aware and responsible towards the planet.
Hence, the market is growing as governments take steps toward making the planet more sustainable for current and future generations. However, several challenges must be addressed to ensure the widespread adoption of sustainable plastics. These include:
- Increase the availability and accessibility of sustainable plastics.
- Develop cost-effective and efficient methods for producing bioplastics and other alternatives.
- Educate consumers and businesses on the benefits of environmentally friendly plastics.
As for opportunities for environmentally friendly plastics, there are numerous. For example:
- Businesses can reduce overall costs.
- It will help reduce the carbon footprint.
- Companies can gain customer trust and support by using eco-friendly plastic products.
Traditional plastics have done enough damage to the environment. It is high time that we shift to better and environmentally friendly alternatives for the better of the planet. We have great options in the form of bioplastics and recycled plastics, which have pros and cons.
However, the pros do outweigh the cons of traditional plastic. Hence, we expect a bright future for plastic alternatives, including innovative options.
Make an Impact With Environmentally Friendly Plastics by Hongju
At Hongju, we believe in making the world a better place. One way to do this is to offer our customers premium yet sustainable solutions. This includes environmentally friendly production processes and products.
We have researched and innovated traditional plastic alternatives to help our consumers fight plastic pollution most cost-effectively. Visit our website and reach out to our team to take your product development to the next level.