How Sustainable is Bioplastic?

After looking toward bioplastic as an alternative to conventional plastic, I really thought this would solve all the environmental issues, but to my surprise bioplastics also carry a negative impact on the environment.  Because the production of bioplastics is moving toward renewable resources instead of the production requiring the use of fossil fuels, I thought this was a absolutely flawless solution to getting rid of the use of fossil fuels, but as it turns out the growing of these renewable resources (crops) is not very sustainable.  An article by Piemonte and Gironi describe the replaced land use as a major downside of bioplastics.  The article states that “Most life- cycle studies have found that a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved by replacing petroleum-based plastics with bioplastics made from renewable feedstock, but these analysis have failed to count the carbon emissions that occur as farmers worldwide convert forest and grassland to new cropland to replace the corn diverted to bioplastics” (Piemonte and Gironi).  They continue to describe the analysis of bioplastics and the negligence to count carbon costs, carbon storage, and sacrificed sequestration in the changing of land uses from its original crops to bioplastic crops.  This week a few Architecture in Transformation students and I described how the planting of these bioplastic crops has many down sides to it as well.  In addition to the process of repurposed land, we decided that since many of these crops are actually inedible, they should not be replacing our crops for material purposes over food supply, which pretty much leads to the question… how much of a necessity is bioplastic?




Piemonte, V. and Gironi, F. Bioplastics and GHGs Saving: The Land Use Change (LUL) Emissions Issue.  Energy Sources Part A: Recovery, Utilization & Environment Effects; Vol 34 Issue 21 p1995-2003. Nov 2012.


One comment

  1. lexxx329

    I think that the question you are proposing is very relevant and telling of the material landscape we live in today. Bioplastic materials are prevalent in the product world and I don’t think that many people are considering whether or not those products are actually sustainable. Rather, they see the green label on products and assume that they must be ‘green’ because it is not made out of conventional plastics that are derived from petroleum. I personally believe that at this point in time we should be addressing our high levels of material consumption instead of focusing on how to mass-produce materials that can be used and discarded of in good conscious.

    I also agree that there is a tricky ethical dilemma that can occur when we grow edible foods and use them to make disposable products rather than to feed the many people that are in need. On the other hand, if bioplastics could be made from just the inedible parts of crops then that would be a commendable way to reuse waste for a better purpose; but until then I am still a skeptic. Overall I think that the transition to bioplastics is not as necessary as lowering our levels of consumption as a society and that we should look at it as a material from a critical outlook such as with your article.

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