Plastic polymers are known to be behind increasing environmental challenges faced around the globe. The plastics, which are petroleum-based, rank number three in terms of products extracted from petroleum. India is at the epicentre of the industry, and just in terms of plastic waste, it generates over 15,000 tons of plastic waste annually. Only two-thirds of this is re-processed.
Bioplastics have stood out as an alternative that is more eco-friendly than plastics. Fewer greenhouse gasses are emitted during the manufacturing process of bioplastics. That’s because they are made from organic sources with corn starch and sugarcane, increasingly popular biomass sources. They are renewable sources and are equally as stable as plastics at high temperatures. Even the Model T used bioplastics back in the day. Some car parts were made from corn starch and soybean oil.
Another area of concern with traditional plastics is the presence of Bisphenol A (BPA). Bioplastics don’t contain this chemical, which can cause hormone disruptions. In fact, bioplastics contain no toxic chemicals at all. They can decompose within 180 days (compared to 500 years with traditional plastics), and the methane they release could be used to produce energy.
What about the product they contain? Traditional plastics are thought to potentially release dangerous chemicals into the food if exposed for a long time.
How are bioplastics produced?
Production of one type, polylactic acid (PLA), starts with starch material plants. This is produced when plants absorb CO2 during photosynthesis. A bacteria is used to ferment the plant starch. The process converts it into a long-chain carbon polymer (PLA). Granules of this material are molded to form small pellets. These can be melted to create any form of packaging material.
Another type, poly hydroxyl alkanoate (PHA), is a more eco-friendly polymer. It can withstand high temperatures. It is produced by fermenting uncooked vegetable materials. This includes carbohydrates, vegetable oil, and glycerine. It is extracted from bacteria and decomposes in soil and water.
With the challenge of plastics being used in India, the bioplastics industry is looking at industry players look for alternatives. India has the raw material biomass needed to sustain bioplastic production. Some of the biggest names playing in this eco-friendly arena are Envigreen, another called Plastobags, and finally Truegreen. They have all generated their own forms of bioplastics.
Truegreen, for example, produces 5,000 tons of bioplastics annually. Their production is focussed on cutlery, bags used for garbage, gloves for handling food, shrink films, and bioplastic packaging and laminating materials. All of them are biodegradable in six months.
Plastobags started out in the production of conventional plastics but chose to diversify their offering. It increased its product portfolio to include shopping bags, disposable gloves, and security bags. Another company that stands out is Earthsoul India. It falls under Novamount, a bioplastics producer, and makes products suitable for garden needs under license. It’s encouraging to see they are also rapidly increasing their production of bioplastics for food packaging and waste disposal.
Ecolife is a firm that specialises in producing bioplastics for industrial packaging. The bioplastics for industrial packaging include perforation and lamination films. The bioplastics they produce are free of polyethylene and polypropylene. It’s notable that they sell single-use and reusable plastic bags made out of bioplastics. Both can be used as biowaste bag.
The start-up Envigreen joined the Indian bioplastics market in 2016. The company produces more than 1,000 tons of bioplastics every year. It took four years of research to find the best production solution. The processing plant also helps local farmers as they buy raw materials grown by them.
The carry bags are made out of potato, tapioca, and organic oil extracted from the fruit (bananas in this case), flowers, and a range of vegetables. Natural starch is also used. They don't use any artificial colours either. Instead, only 100% natural and organic colours are used.
Because of the fact that up to 14 ingredients are used in the production of bioplastics, their manufacturing costs are higher than traditional plastics. The raw materials are more expensive than others. This pushes the price of the end product up by a third. But at what saving to the planet? Envigreen claims that it takes 15 seconds to dissolve one of their bioplastic bags in boiling water. If thrown away, it will decompose within 180 days and within a day when placed in room temperature water.
What's making the difference? The government is supporting the growth of the bioplastics industry. Consumer behaviour is also changing – people want to support brands that are making a switch to sustainable packaging. As we strive towards a greener environment, it's companies like Envigreen, Truegreen, and Ecolife that are trailblazers that other plastic manufacturers can learn from. Countries with plenty of raw materials needed for the production of bioplastics also stand to benefit as both suppliers and manufacturers.
For more information about eco-friendly packaging and supplies, be sure to visit Melbpack.