Alternatives to plastic
Petroleum-derived plastics are strong and flexible, but they are made from materials that are not at all good for the environment: they are neither biodegradable nor compostable, and often cannot be recycled (think of children’s toys).
Although it has become an inseparable ally in our daily lives, and we cannot imagine how to live without it, there are alternative materials to plastic on the market that are really useful in minimizing the environmental impact on planet earth.
The use of plastic derived from petroleum products is so widespread because it is a light material, easily moldable, insulating, resistant to corrosion and above all, very cheap to produce.
It would seem to have many advantages, but it has one major disadvantage:
The devastating effect it has on the environment, being one of the main causes of environmental pollution.
Whether abandoned in nature in its original form, or due to the release of the famous microplastics, plastic takes centuries to degrade.
Many companies invest huge amounts of capital in plastic recycling. In the textile sector, for example, just think of Econyl and NewLife fibers, but to combat the pollution caused by plastic, groups of researchers are trying to produce ecological alternative materials to plastic, using biodegradable plant fibers, or at least compostable if properly disposed of with separate collection.
We are talking in particular about BioPlastics. However, let’s not be fooled by the name, not all BioPlastics are so “good” with the environment, since most of them still require proper separate collection.
This means that, if left in nature, they would still cause a form of pollution, even if less than traditional plastic.
Banana leaves instead of plastic
Among the alternatives to plastic, in this case we’re not talking about an alternative material, but a nice idea for sustainable packaging: using banana leaves to wrap vegetable foods.
Despite the plastic alarm is a global problem, in the supermarkets of every city we continue to see fruit packed with plastic materials.
We often witness absurd things, such as fruit packaged individually. The idea is precisely to replace it with durable banana leaves.
I like it, but I don’t think it would work well in Europe or other countries, since banana plants don’t grow and we would have to import them.
Plastic made of milk protein (not vegan)
Scientists indicate that milk protein can help produce a biodegradable plastic useful for making insulation materials, pillows, packaging and other alternatives to plastic products.
In the textile industry, milk proteins are used to create a form of plant-based viscose fabric.
Researchers, are therefore carefully evaluating casein -the main protein found in milk- by transforming it into a biodegradable alternative material to plastic that complements the compressibility and stiffness of polystyrene.
Milk plastic is biodegradable and recyclable, does not crack easily, and is far less toxic to the environment than petroleum-derived plastic.
Chicken feather plastic (not vegan)
The United States has highlighted the problem of disposing of poultry feathers derived from the food industry, which are usually destined for incinerators, but thanks to textile innovation, they are now being used to make alternatives to plastic with all the characteristics of petroleum-derived plastics.
Poultry feathers are made from keratin, a protein as strong and durable as plastic, which is also found in human hair and sheep’s wool.
Keratin-based plastic has been shown to be more resistant to tearing than alternative plastic materials made from soy, starch, and other agricultural sources.
It is inexpensive, recyclable, and biodegradable. In addition, the study of this material opens the door to the possible application of human hair as a raw material to produce eco-friendly alternatives to plastic.
Arboform: Liquid Wood Plastic
Liquid Wood resembles and behaves like plastic, but unlike petroleum plastic, “Liquid Wood” is biodegradable and suitable for creating products of all kinds.
You can use wood chips and scraps from maple, cherry, ebony, eucalyptus, beech, and any other plant.
Some researchers use liquid wood as a substitute to create toys, golf clubs, hi-fi speaker boxes, and other everyday items. This eco-friendly alternative to plastic is also easily used in the production of handbags, shoes, and fashion accessories.
Wood plastic is biodegradable, environmentally friendly, and infinitely recyclable.
Bioplastics – Starch Blends
This is definitely the most popular BioPlastic on the market, starch, a natural polymer that has never been considered as a key element of the plastics industry, despite its excellent mechanical properties and attractive (relatively low) cost.
The urgency to provide materials with low energy consumption and from renewable resources, which also offer biodegradability as a feature, has served to promote starch blends, which have now reached a significant share in world markets.
A share that increases year by year and would therefore seem to be the real alternative to plastic.
Plastic made from starch blends is of course eco-friendly, biodegradable and compostable.
Bioplastic – Polycaprolactone Plastic (PCL/PLC)
Polycaprolactone is a synthetic aliphatic polyester applied mainly in the medical field. Rarely used due to high costs, it is a biodegradable plastic even if left in nature, but proper disposal should be done in the wet.
To reduce production costs, PCL is mixed with natural substances from agriculture, such as starch.
It is an ecological alternative to compostable and biodegradable plastic, but be careful to dispose of it correctly in the wet waste, because even though it is biodegradable in a short time, it still contains chemicals that left in nature would cause a form of environmental pollution.
Bioplastics – Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) Plastics
Polyhydroxyalkanoate polymers are biodegradable plastics that resemble man-made polypropylene. They are less flexible than petroleum-based plastics and are useful in plastic films, molded bottles, packaging, and other items that do not require much flexibility.
Used in the Bioplastics industry because they are more environmentally friendly than petroleum-derived plastic polymers, they are biodegradable and compostable.
Bioplastics – Polylactic Acid Plastic (PLA)
Polylactic acid is an aliphatic polyester of plant origin with the ability to decompose within 50 days in an industrial composting site.
This type of plastic does not emit toxic fumes when burned. It is used for “green” packaging applications, automotive parts and coffee mugs.
It is an eco-friendly alternative to lactic acid-derived plastics, biodegradable and compostable, little harm to the environment if left in the wild, but in any case needs to be disposed of properly in the wet.
There are several forms of eco-friendly plastic derived from polylactate, among which we point out: Potato Plastic, Corn Plastic, Wheat Plastic, Cactus Plastic.
Glass, Wood and Metals
The alternatives to plastic are also these, sure we can’t pack vegetables in aluminum boxes, but we can sell water bottles in glass rather than plastic.
Glass is infinitely renewable, as is metal. They certainly aren’t environmentally friendly industries, but overall they pollute less than the plastic industry.
Should we be content? In part yes, today is the time to wage war on the plastic industry, then it will be the turn of the metal industry, and so on, one after the other.
Wood, on the other hand, is a natural resource, the important thing is to pay attention to sustainable planting: we certainly don’t want wood from the Amazon forest.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) takes care of this problem with its certification of sustainable forests, so all we have to do is buy products derived from wood and with the FSC label.
Additives for greener plastics
While most of the scientific world is busy finding environmentally friendly alternatives to plastics, others are making biodegradable plastics using additives called Prodegradant Concentrates (PDCs).
PDCs undergo oxidation processes that turn traditional plastics into fragile, low molecular weight fragments. As the fragments disintegrate, they are transformed into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass, all of which contain no residues harmful to earthly life.
These additives are used to make single-use plastic packaging such as food containers, disposable diapers, landfill covers, thin plastic bags, and trash bags.
Although PDC additives are not fully biodegradable, PDC-containing polymers are more environmentally friendly than petroleum-derived plastics.
Where to Buy Green Plastic Products
The textile industry is the second most polluting in the world, which is why we suggest to take a look at ecoFASHION, a search engine for eco-friendly products: sustainable and cruelty free fashion
Alternatives to plastic are used by several fashion brands, we can tell you that they use recycled fibers such as Econyl and Newlife, but also fibers made from the mixture of starch or liquid wood, but in this case we are not talking about clothing, but bags and accessories.
What are you waiting for? Do you buy eco-friendly products online or in your city!