We all know that plastic pollution is a huge problem facing not only our planet but our society as well. While recycling does have the ability to create a better lifecycle for petroleum-based plastic products, it isn’t the most efficient system we have. When you look at the lifecycle of a product, you not only have to consider the life of the product, but the life of the material as well. Petroleum-based plastics are made from oil that formed from organic matter over the course of 50 million years. Essentially, really REALLY old carbon. Carbon that was safely sequestered away that we are now going to pump into not only our atmosphere, but our oceans, our roadsides, and our landfills. We’re looking for a method and material that removes excess carbon, not adds it. There has to be a better solution, one that utilizes newer sources of carbon and cleaner production methods.
Well, surprise surprise, there is. Compostable bioplastics are made from plant-bases, which therefore makes their starting point a new carbon source, rather than an old one. And, rather than taking 50 million years to form, like oil, the two main necessary crops–sugar cane for industrially compostable PLA and canola for home compostable PHA–are fully mature in 14 and 4 months respectively. Therefore, the beginning of life for these materials is infinitely better when compared to that of traditional plastics: it’s more sustainable, it’s better for the environment, and it takes less time. A similar statement can be made for the end of lives of these materials. Both PLA and PHA will return to usable compost in under a year’s time (in the proper facilities and conditions in the case of PLA). However, no matter where plastics end up–even if they’re recycled–they will end up in landfills where they will sit for somewhere between 500 and 1000 years. And if they end up anywhere else, they often break down into microplastics, which are highly toxic and dangerous to the environment and to wildlife.
When it comes to the middle part of the lifecycle (ie, actually producing, selling, utilizing, and disposing of a product from one of the 3 materials), it’s pretty similar across materials in the case of time. However, they differ in sustainability. Molding and producing products from petroleum-based materials is, in general, a more harmful process to the planet than the same process done with compostable bioplastic materials. Whenever you work with petroleum-based materials, some amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere, which makes it a more environmentally detrimental process.
At UrthPact, our goal is always to work towards creating a world where consumption leaves no footprint. Our compostable products lines help to push the plastics economy in the US to be more circular by implementing compostable solutions where applicable. Single-use foodservice products are a great niche for compostable products and packaging that can be disposed of in compost with food scraps. Currently, our straws are home compostable and biodegrade anywhere on Earth, while our cutlery and coffee products are industrially compostable. Each step forward is a step towards keeping 25 billion pieces of plastic out of oceans and landfills. Each step creates a world where consumption leaves no footprint.