What are ‘bioplastics’?

Bioplastics are plastics derived from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable fats, corn starch, straw, woodchips, food waste etc. Bioplastic can be made from agricultural by-products and also from used plastic bottles and other containers using microorganisms. Unlike conventional plastics, bioplastics can be broken down by microbes in industrial composting facilities within six months. 

Source: Wikipedia

How ‘bioplastic’ can be useful?

Plastic pollution is a huge problem that the world faces today.  Bioplastics, unlike conventional plastics, can be broken down by microbes in industrial composting facilities within six months. This makes them a promising, if partial, solution to India’s plastic problem.

Also read: Plastic Problem and associated dimensions.

Challenges the ‘bioplastic’ market faces.

  • Finding customers – Because most bioplastics produced globally are made from the byproducts of food crops, they are expensive. Compared to conventional plastics, which are derived from fossil fuels, a bioplastic carry bag could cost almost thrice as much and thus people prefer the cheaper conventional plastics.
  • Absence of industrial composting facilities – Bioplastics require industrial composting facilities to be disposed of. But most cities lack an adequate number of such facilities; this means the bioplastics end up on the streets and harm the environment just like normal plastics do.
  • Reliance on foodcrops – Bioplastics can be made out of dozens of different feedstocks. One of the commonest bioplastics in use today — polylactic acid (PLA) is synthesised from starch extracted from food crops like corn and cassava. These crops are simply not a cost-competitive alternative to fossil fuels today.
  • Food vs Fuel debate – Many are of the view that diversion of food crops towards making bioplastics can lead to a food crisis.
  • Absence of raw material for ‘bioplastic’ in India – Almost all raw materials for making bioplastics e.g.PLA pellets is imported by Indian companies, who blend it with other ingredients to make carry bags, bin liners or cutlery. This makes bioplastics even more expensive in India.

Way ahead:

  • Support to the bioplastic industry – Given the high cost and technological barriers the bioplastics industry is saddled with, there is a need for exemplary support to the industry. The bioplastic industry must be provided with subsidies for electricity consumption, lower rates of Goods and Services Tax and lower import duties.
  • Setting up of infrastructure – More composting infrastructure must be set up.
  • Strict enforcement of policy – The ban on conventional plastic must be strictly enforced.
  • Awareness and behavioural change among people – People must be made aware about the ill effects of plastic and behavioural change must be induced. Also, more focus must be provided on practices like ‘waste segregation’ and recycling.

Source: The Hindu

Categories: POINT IAS

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