Top 10 Eco-friendly Substitutes for Plastic


1
Starch-based Polymers
Boosting biodegradability means plastic bottles like these won't hang around our environment for quite so long.
Boosting biodegradability means plastic bottles like these won't hang around our environment for quite so long.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

As a totally biodegradable, low-cost, renewable and natural polymer, starch has been receiving lots of attention for developing sustainable materials lately. When it comes to replacing plastic, however, starch can't cut the mustard; its poor mechanical properties mean it has limited use for the sturdy products that plastics generate.

What one of the hottest trends in biodegradable plastic development can do is make polymer composites more biodegradable. You name it, and starch has probably been combined with it, albeit with varying degrees of success.

To make completely biodegradable starch-based plastics, the components usually blended with starch are aliphatic polyesters, such as PLA and PCL, and polyvinyl alcohol. Adding in starch also shaves plastic manufacturing costs. Starch needs to exceed 60 percent of the composite before it has a significant effect on degradation; as the starch content increases, the polymers become more biodegradable [source: Nolan-ITU Pty Ltd]. Keep in mind that adding more starch also affects the properties of the plastic. If you put wet leaves in a starch bag for a bit, you'll have a mess when you go to pick up the bag.

So, while there is no silver bullet for making plastics greener, a combination of revitalizing old ideas and revolutionizing plastic technology is a step in the right direction.

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More Great Links

Sources

  • Clean Air Council. "Waste and Recycling Facts." (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.cleanair.org/Waste/wasteFacts.html
  • The Economist. "There and back again. An old idea may help solve the problem of plastic waste". Oct. 28, 2010. (Feb. 15, 2012) http://www.economist.com/node/17358583
  • EMC Biofilms Web site. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.ecmbiofilms.com/our-product.html
  • Environment California. "Keep Plastic out of the Pacific." (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.environmentcalifornia.org/programs/keep-plastic-out-pacific
  • EPI Web site. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.epi-global.com/en/epi-technology.php
  • Nakazawa, Liz. "A new corn-based plastic disappears into the dirt." The Christian Science Monitor. 2003.(Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0904/p12s02-sten.html
  • Nolan-ITU Pty Ltd. "Biodegradable Plastics- Developments and Environmental Impacts." Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Australian Government. ( Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.environment.gov.au/archive/settlements/publications/waste/degradables/biodegradable/chapter3.html#3-3
  • Nolan-ITU Pty Ltd. "Biodegradable Plastics- Developments and Environmental Impacts." Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Australian Government. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.environment.gov.au/archive/settlements/publications/waste/degradables/biodegradable/chapter4.html
  • Nolan-ITU Pty Ltd. "Biodegradable Plastics- Developments and Environmental Impacts." Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Australian Government. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.environment.gov.au/archive/settlements/publications/waste/degradables/biodegradable/chapter2.html
  • Packaging Knowledge. "Degradable & Biodegradable Plastic Bags." (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.packagingknowledge.com/degradable_biodegradable_bags.asp
  • Royte, Elizabeth. "Corn Plastic to the Rescue." Smithsonian Magazine. 2008. (Feb. 17, 2012) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/plastic.html
  • ScienceDaily. "Advance Toward Making Biodegradable Plastics from Waste Chicken Feathers." March 31, 2011. (Feb. 15, 2012) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110331142204.htm
  • ScienceDaily. "Sweet and Biodegradable: Sugar and Cornstarch Make Environmentally Safer Plastics." Dec. 14, 2010. (Feb. 14, 2012) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101214111919.htm
  • The South African Plastics Recycling Organization. "The plastics recycling industry and biodegradable films." May 2008. (Feb. 29, 2012) http://www.scribd.com/doc/62303281/SAPRO-Report-14
  • Woodruff, Maria A. and Hutmacher, Dietmar W. "The return of a forgotten polymer: Polycaprolactone in the 21st century." Progress in Polymer Science. 2010. (Feb. 29, 2012) http://eprints.qut.edu.au/32270/1/c32270.pdf

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