Caroline Wood, a PhD student at the University of Sheffield (studying parasitic weeds that infect food crops) attended the Circular Economy Club’s event hosted at our openhouse in May, to learn more about the labs involvement in the current bioplastic debate. Since, Caroline has continued her research and published an interesting article on whether bioplastics are the answer to tackling the growing single use plastic issue.
In her feature Are bioplastics the solution to plastic waste?, Caroline lists the different types of bioplastics available and describes their composition. She provides some transparency on how bioplastics are recycled and composted, an area that is increasingly coming into question – with some bioplastics requiring specialist facilities, separate to the recycling of conventional plastics. Moreover, she compares the environmental footprint of bioplastics with the impact of conventional plastics, with some bioplastics using raw materials, putting equal pressure on sea and land resources.
For this reason, Caroline advocates that it would be better to use waste materials for bioplastic production instead of creating a new need for resource intensive raw materials. By doing this, most of these waste materials would be available to the public. Caroline explains that “locally-produced, abundantly available waste materials […] [offer] the chance to move plastic production from large corporations to community ventures”. Caroline also met with Green Lab residents Materiom whilst at the event. Materiom are an online open source database that share bioplastic recipes and therefore encourage anybody to create their own bioplastic materials. An important area of there research includes utilising waste materials as a resource, as well as localised manufacture and recipes that can be adapted to suit location.
However, for bioplastics to become mainstream, there are many challenges to overcome. One example Caroline mentions is the possible food allergies linked to some bioplastics’ raw materials, with some ingredients containing gluten for example, having a negative affect on individuals with coeliac disease.
In conclusion, the real issue is our single-use society. The most effective and sustainable way to move forward would be to reduce and reuse certain products and materials, with bioplastics acting as an alternative option only when reusing items is unachievable – ie the medical industry.