Blog Post #5
Answering My Main Inquiry Question
Now that I finished all my research and answered my main inquiry question, I wrote my Capstone essay, which is below:
Do you know what bioplastics or biodegradable plastics are? I didn’t, so I wanted to learn more about how bioplastics and biodegradable plastics compare. To understand the topic better, I got in touch with a leading expert in this field. Dr. Geoffrey Coates, Professor at Cornell University. He explained that currently the two terms tend to be used interchangeably, which often creates confusion, but the most commonly accepted definitions are as follows. Bioplastics are made from renewable resources, mostly from corn starch but can also be made from food waste and scraps, wood chips as well as many other materials. Biodegradable plastics, however, can be made from completely different materials than bioplastics. Biodegradable plastics are regular plastics which are combined with an additive that makes them degrade faster. However, there are pros and cons to both bioplastics and biodegradable plastics.
Bioplastics are better than regular plastics because they are made from renewable resources and they degrade in a shorter amount of time than regular plastics. This is a big pro because using this type of plastic is better for the environment. Another pro is that bioplastic containers won’t leach chemicals into food, soil and water table like regular plastic. Finally, bioplastics are better for the carbon footprint than traditional plastics. A carbon footprint measures how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases humans produce from different activities. That carbon dioxide gets added to the atmosphere, which is not good for the environment since it causes global warming. There are a few cons to using bioplastics too. A lot of corn is used to create bioplastics, leaving less corn for food. Another con is that bioplastics have to follow a specific disposal procedure, meaning that they cannot be put into landfills. If they are put into landfills, they break down like regular plastics and produce methane, a greenhouse gas which is more dangerous than carbon dioxide. Even though bioplastics are not perfect, there are still many reasons to use them.
The biggest pro of biodegradable plastics is that they are good for the environment because they degrade rapidly without harming it. Another pro is that biodegradable plastics are broken down naturally by micro-organisms. Finally, biodegradable plastics do not add to the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. A big con is that biodegradable plastics are not made from renewable resources. Biodegradable plastics are also more expensive to produce than traditional plastics, but these prices are coming down as technologies improve.
Bioplastics and biodegradable plastic may one day replace regular plastics because of their benefits to the environment. Large international companies want to start using environment friendly plastics. One of the companies that is already using them is the Coca-Cola company. Their plastic bottles are 30% plant based. AT&T also makes bioplastic phones and phone accessories. Those are only two examples, but there are more companies who plan to use these materials.
While talking to Dr, Ann Blake, who works tirelessly with governments to help define and label parts and products, I realized that the first step is to have a clear definition of bioplastics and biodegradable plastics so that it is not confusing. I feel that it is very important to first have a clear definition and distinction between all the categories of plastics so that they are not used interchangeably.
The demand for biodegradable plastics is growing in Western Europe. Environmental regulations are the strictest there. In this region, household products are being manufactured using biodegradable plastics, such as foam packaging, mulch films, paper coatings, textiles and nonwoven fabrics, medical devices, tools for oil and gas operations, 3D printing filament and more. We still have to catch up in the United States. The state that is leading with environmentally responsible changes in this field is California. They are way ahead of most states when it comes to labeling as well as disposing of products.
Some of the major companies that manufacture biodegradable plastics are Novamont, where I went for my site visit, as well as NatureWorks, and Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation. It is very interesting to see that now research and development is a step ahead from bioplastics and biodegradable plastics. For household products, Novamont has developed a plastic that is compostable. For example, the next time you are shopping at Trader Joe’s, look closely at the plastic bags that you put produce in. They feel different to touch and are compostable! I was so happy to hear that Trader Joe’s has switched to compostable bags. I am looking forward to the day when this becomes common everywhere.
Now you know how both plastics compare. You know the pros and cons of bioplastics and biodegradable plastics, you know what both are and you know how they are going to further advance. I hope that this essay made you think about making better choices in using and disposing plastics to make the world a safer and better place.