Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bioplastics: Not all their cracked up to be

The Union of Concerned Scientists is one of my favorite resources for scientific environmental information. Their latest issue of Greentips takes a look at "compostable" plastics. Personally I only use disposable/compostable utensils and plates once a year, at one of my daughter's birthday parties. If we have the party at home, I use our regular silverware; but every year one of my kids can have an "out" party (at a gymnastics place or something like that). I find it more convenient at these times to use disposable or compostable utensils and plates rather than bringing my own from home and the dirty ones back again. I know I shouldn't, but Irationalize it because it's only once a year.

Unlike typical plastics made from crude oil, “bioplastics” are often made from plant matter such as corn starch, potato starch, cane sugar, and soy protein. A potentially renewable alternative to petroleum-based plastics would have the long-term benefits of reducing global warming pollution and our dependence on fossil fuels, but do bioplastics fit the bill? As they become more ubiquitous—in the form of grocery bags and disposable plates, food containers, and cutlery—numerous concerns have been raised about their true value:

Click here to read the full text of the article. Basically, UCS summarizes studies that show why we should be favoring durable or recycled good over bioplastics. Reasons include the fact that some people recycle (rather than compost) bioplastics, which contaminates the waste stream; the overuse of pesticides, fertilizer, and fossil fuels in the production crops grown for bioplastics; and the inability of most bioplastics to decompose in backyard compost situations.

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