There has been increasing research in the U.S. on the use of bio-plastics in society. The use of bio-plastics versus petroleum-based plastics is quickly becoming an increasingly popular way to make and use plastics without using continually limited natural resources, such as petroleum.
In the early 1900s, a majority of the plastic used in the United States were bio-based. During World War II the use of petroleum-based plastics increased to meet the demand for various plastic products. Now in 2013, of the 12.63 million tons of plastic produced each year only 2.6 percent is bio-based. There has been more than 1 billion dollars invested in recycling programs since 1990 to properly recycle these petroleum-based plastics while keeping them out of landfills.
Plastics are created with the simple sugars found in plant material rather than petroleum to reduce our carbon footprint significantly. These plastics or biopolymers are created in a fermentation process in which microorganisms are introduced to the plant sugars creating lactic acids. The lactic acids form ringed molecules and these rings open to form chains of polylactide polymer. NatureWorks LLC takes these chains and makes Ingeo pellets which are then sold to manufacturers for the creation of bio plastic products. Ingeo generates 60 percent fewer greenhouse gases than petroleum-based plastics, it also can be recycled, decomposed and is non-toxic to the environment.
NatureWorks LLC, a company based in Minnetonka, Minn., is the leader in the use of Ingeo for plastic products. Since the development of Ingeo in 2003, this company has made huge advancements in the area of renewable and eco-friendly resources throughout the world. Cargill works with NatureWorks LLC by investing in the company for research and production of Ingeo pellets.
One criticism about creating bio-plastics is that it takes away from the food supply, but at our current rate, only .0005 percent of the annual global crop supply is being used for bio-plastics. By using bio-plastics the U.S. will use less natural resources and head forward into a cleaner future. Although using petro-based plastics is still relatively cheap to use ($.50/lb.) cheaper than bio-based plastics ($1.50/lb.), bio-plastics has the potential to make the environment cleaner and healthier, lessen the use of toxic chemicals, and create less waste in landfills.
Other research groups are beginning to research other methods of creating bio-plastics through genetic engineering. The bacteria species Alcaligenes eutrophus has been found to contain three genes that can create the chemical compound plastic polymer. Scientists have been using A. eutrophus in plants by changing the sequence of DNA so that plants can create these plastic polymers. This has provided plants with the ability to create more plastic polymer so additional plastic can be extracted from the plant. However, these genetically engineered plants may pose a danger to insects and animals that feed off of them.
While genetically engineered plastic plants are still being researched at this time, there is an opportunity for the development of bio-plastics. As technology advances this field will continue to be explored as it presents a viable solution for the U.S. to decrease the size of the landfills, and lessen our dependence on petroleum for the production of many consumer products.
Barnett, R. (2008, Dec. 26). Biodegradable plastic made from plants, not oil, is emerging. USA Today. Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/industries/manufacturing/
Natureworks llc. (2013). Retrieved from www.natureworksllc.com.
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