Plastics have been an intrinsic part of our life. Right from ordinary polythene bags for carrying groceries to encasing of a tech gadget, plastic material is used almost everywhere. A recent survey shows that India is the third-largest plastic consumer in the world, with a total consumption of plastics of about four million tons and a resulting waste production of about two million tons.
Enforcement of the ban on plastic bags is sometimes questionable, though we can see that cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Karwar, Tirumala, Vasco all have placed a ban on the polythene bag. Recently, the use of polythene bags in Srinagar and other parts of the Kashmir Valley has been made a finable offense.
Plastic is an organic polymer that has both good and bad influences on our environment, which is why we need to seek a better alternative to it. About 1.27 billion people use and dispose plastics almost every day. The impact of this problem is so large on the environment that a mere “swing of the magic wand’ is not going change things. Fortunately, advanced technology and the increasing need for eco-friendly products, have introduced us to a sustainable remedy, “Bio-Plastic”.
Bio-plastics are biodegradable thermoplastic material made from Polylactic Acid polymer, which is very much similar to the regular Polythene material. Bioplastic material can be derived from various raw materials such as vegetable fats and oils, corn starch, pea starch or microbes. Researchers find that Bioplastics can also be generated using microalgae and banana peels. Since these plastics are derived from renewable biomass sources, they degrade faster in the environment and emit low rates of greenhouse gases. They are sustainable as they produce very less carbon dioxide emissions and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. Although the cost of producing Bioplastics is considerably more expensive than plastics currently, they provide better features and advantages over plastics that are made from petrochemicals.
|Consumes fossil fuels and emits CO2 emissions||Emits very less CO2 emissions|
|Non-biodegradable and harms the environment||Biodegradable so harmless|
|Extremely difficult to collect plastic waste and destroy||Easy to compost locally and destroy|
|Extremely versatile in product variety||Not very versatile in product variety|
|Extremely low production cost||Higher production cost|
|Easily available||Availability not widespread|
Commonly used bioplastic feedstocks are: cellulose, starch, glucose and vegetable oil. Specific techniques are employed to convert these feedstocks into thermoplastic starch, polylactic acid, poly-3-hydroxybutyrate, polyamide 11 and biopolyethylene. Production of these bioplastics is a full-fledged downstream process. For example, when starch is used as feedstock, it is put through a scarification process using enzymes to produce liquid glucose. The liquid glucose can then be fermented by special bacteria or fungi to produce the lactic acid monomer, which is then polymerized to produce polylactic acid, which is a biodegradable polymer. Source: Sustainable Plastics
These polymers undergo a compounding process in which their basic properties are modified and enhanced by adding plasticizers and other ingredients. In the final part of the production process, the ready material is molded or blown into various types of finished products as needed. The two industrial processes that are used in this case are: saccharification by using enzymes to produce glucose from starch and molding them into finished products.
Bioplastics in India
In India, Bioplastics are still in their nascent stage with very few market players operating in this segment. Currently, the Indian Bioplastics market is beset by challenges such as low awareness that are typical to emerging markets, especially the markets dealing with eco-friendly products, but there is a potential for companies wishing to enter this market.
Frost & Sullivan feels market participants can request tax exemptions and regulations that mandate the use of Bioplastics for certain applications. Apart from possible government backing and rising greater environmental awareness, Bioplastics manufacturers can benefit from the easy availability of abundant feedstock in India. This segment has a long way to go in terms of production, raw materials and technology. Environmental awareness and promoting the long-term benefits of bio-plastics is an initial step that needs to take toward bringing this change.
On a brighter note, Jammu & Kashmir is the first state in India to have built a dedicated bioplastic product manufacturing facility with an installed capacity of about 960 metric tons per year. The J&K Agro Industries Ltd has started its joint venture with Earthsoul India to launch the country’s first integrated biopolymer facility that can manufacture 100% bio-degradable and compostable products. The facility manufactures flower pots and trays for floriculture, carry bags for shopping, packaging material for foodstuff and meats, bin liners for hotels, etc. Ravi Industries in Maharashtra, Harita NTI Ltd and Biotec Bags in Tamilnadu are also the pioneers in Bio-plastics in India.
Apart from Bioplastics, there are other eco-friendly products that serve the same purpose, in the market. Almost all the shops today have replaced fancy plastic bags with jute, paper, cloth and wicker bags. For insulation, plastic can be replaced by cellulose, wood, paper, recycled plastic insulation. Bioplastics are bio-degradable material, derived from renewable and natural feedstocks, that can be composted locally into the soil and also contribute to healthier rural and urban economies. These advantages make it clear why Bioplastics need to be adopted seriously by Indians. It’s up to every individual to bring a change and stop this dangerous ritual of using plastic packaging.