Biopolymers potential future

    The material of choice in the modern world has become non-biodegradable plastics and polymers, and there is evidence of vigorous R&D activities to discover, develop, and commercially produce degradable biopolymers to replace them. The fact of the matter is biopolymers are still in the early stages of development and considering them as an alternative for the current commercial products is too improbable. Biopolymers originate from plants; they can be utilized in sectors where they come in contact with the human body, for example hygiene/grooming, cosmetics, medical implants/devices, textile and food markets.

    Due to the low cost of production and versatility the use of plastics in our everyday life is virtually boundless and no alternative emerging product is likely to replace the nearly ubiquitous presence of plastics. The current global production level is about 250 million tons and its growth will continue to be strong globally. The plastics are preferable over other materials, plastics are light, durable, resist deterioration, and the markets they cater to are extensive, spanning from food to textiles, to furniture, electronics, vehicle parts, photography/videography, coatings, constructions, enclosures, bottles and containers.

    The most commonly used types of plastics are PO, PP, PS, PVC, PET, PU, polyacrylates, polyvinyl acetates, and polyamides.  These synthetic polymers are typically made from the naphtha fraction of petroleum or natural gas and are heavy pollutants and are not biodegradable. As a result of living in a “throw away” society, millions of tons of plastics end up in landfills, oceans and as a result, the shores. If the practice of “throwing away” was to cease, plastic waste would continue to wash upon our shores for hundreds of years.  A glimpse into the results of all this waste, the significant erosions of marine life, as millions of marine animals die each year; and there is clear evidence that these numbers will escalate because the global demand for these materials is on the rise.

    Burning plastics has not been an option either, as toxic gases such as hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen chloride are emitted. Any attempts to accelerate biodegradation via additives such as chemicals, oxygen, and UV additives have not resulted in significant measurable reductions.

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