The be gauged from the fact that 15,342 tonnes

The
pristine air of Delhi coerces one to move away from the hustle and bustle of
the city as soon as an opportunity strikes. However, this implies confronting
the inevitable demon of packing up for the journey. As soon as that dreaded
hour strikes my mother conjures up a wide array of poly bags. Meticulously
saved for centuries, they are meant to keep the soiled clothes and footwear
away. Strict instructions are given to do the same however, seldom are they
followed. Armed with this huge cache of poly bags, nestled deep inside the
travelling bag I feel I am combat ready for the sojourn. This importance of
plastics in our lives could be gauged from the fact that 15,342
tonnes of plastic waste is generated by India, out of which, 9,205 tonnes were
reported to be recycled and leaving 6,137 tonnes uncollected and littered. Easy
to manufacture and being economical, plastics have a wide range of applications
being used in simple products like pens to more sophisticated machineries like space
crafts. Despite the concerted efforts of the government and the scientific
fraternity to mitigate this problem there has been no significant reduction in
the volume of the plastic waste generated. Being highly durable they do not
degrade easily and thus have myriad environmental consequences. On one hand,
both the manufacture and the destruction of plastic by incineration pollutes
land, water and air producing many carcinogens in the process, while on the
other, consumption of plastics by marine and land animals proves to be fatal.
The images of venerable cow munching through the plastic waste or washed up
waste on the beach are ubiquitous. Although recycling the waste helps to an
extent yet it was imperative to find an alternative that amalgamates the
properties of plastics that make them versatile along with making them
biodegradable. This gave the birth to bioplastics.Bioplastics
comprise of a whole family of materials with
different properties and applications and can be defined as the plastics
derived from renewable sources. They can be divided into two broad
categories according to European bioplastics:

·        
Bio based plastics- plastics derived
from biomass sources such as vegetable fats and oils, corn starch or
microbiota.

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·        
Bio-degradable plastics- plastics which disintegrate into organic matter and
gases like CO2, etc. in a particular time.

Commonly used bioplastics are based on cellulose, starch,
glucose and oil. Specific techniques are then employed to convert these
feedstocks into thermoplastic starch, polylactic acid(PLA),
poly-3-hydroxybutyrate(PLH), polyamide 11 and biopolyethylene.

§  Thermoplastic starch-
This is the most significant and widely used bioplastic. Starch is derived from
crops like potato and corn. Thermoplastic starch
generally represents just one component of which starch based bioplastics are
formed. The second part of the blend consists of water repellent and
biologically degradable polymers like polyester, polyesteramids, polyesterurethanes
or polyvinylalcohols. Starch based bioplastics find their application in
products like bags, plant pots, cutlery etc.

§  PLA
(polylactic acid or polylactide)- This is by far the most promising bioplastic for the near future. Its
characteristics resemble conventional fossil fuel based plastics. PLA is mostly
produced by the fermentation of starch from crops like corn, wheat, sugarcane
into lactic acid followed by polymerization. Its blends have a wide range of
applications including computer and mobile phone casings, biodegradable medical
implants, foil, moulds, tins, cups, bottles and packaging devices.

§  PHB (poly-3-hydroxybutyrate)- This is produced by bacteria processing glucose or starch
and resembles petroplastic polypropylene. It is biodegradable and have
advantages of being resistant to hydrolytic degradation. The application of PHB
blends varies from the fabrication of glues to hard rubber.

§  PA 11 (polyamide
11)- Produced from natural oil;
this bioplastic is not biodegradable but decreases production of greenhouse
emissions and consumption of non-renewable sources during its production. It is
used in high-performance applications such as automotive fuel lines, pneumatic
airbrake tubing, sports shoes etc.

§  PHA (Polyhydroxyalkanoates)–
Produced by bacterial fermentation of sugar and lipids. This find its utility
majorly in the medical industry. It’s properties include more ductility and
less elasticity than other plastics in addition to being biodegradable.

§  Cellulose based plastics-
which includes cellulose esters like cellulose acetate, nitrocellulose, and
their derivatives- celluloid.

§  Protein based plastics-
most common sources include wheat gluten and casein for the production of
different biodegradable polymers.

Bio-derived
polyethylene-
This is chemically and physically identical to traditional polyethylene.
Ethylene can be derived from ethanol which in turn can be procured from
fermentation of agricultural feedstocks such as
sugar cane or corn.ADVANTAGES

Bioplastics offer several advantages over traditional
plastics. Some of them such as bio-based PE and PET
save onto fossil fuels as they use renewable sources for their production and
thus is carbon neutral. They can also be recycled. Moreover, biodegradability
is another add on and provides additional means of recovery at the end of
product’s life and hence helps in curbing pollution to an extent. Existing properties like durability,
flexibility, heat resistance etc. have been also been significantly enhanced in
bioplastics.

OTHER SIDE OF
THE COIN

Bioplastics cannot be classified as a panacea for dealing with the
status quo. Hence, it is critical to deliberate the drawbacks of using
bioplastics as a substitute to make an informed decision. Manufacturing cost of
bioplastics is higher as compared to conventional petroleum based plastics.
This fundamental and formidable barrier is responsible for a low percentage
share of bioplastics in the plastic market. PLA costs about 20 percent more and
PHA is nearly double the price of traditional petroleum-based plastics. Even
developed countries like United States lack facilities till date that could
segregate bioplastics from normal plastics. This implies that these would
contaminate the recyclable plastic waste or could end up in a landfill where
it’s decomposition under anaerobic conditions produces a greenhouse gas,
methane.

CONCLUSION

It is indispensable to surmount these challenges
however simultaneously research should be focused on finding better
alternatives. The problem of segregating bioplastics from normal waste can be
overcome by color coding these environment friendly plastics. Public awareness
is essential to avert the disposal of bioplastics in landfills where they might
contribute to the production of greenhouse gases. Sound infrastructure should
be developed so as to manage the bioplastics that end up at landfill and
utilize the methane produced through them to meet the energy needs preventing
wastage of resources at each step. One of the major contention with the
widespread use of bioplastics is how much environment friendly are its
manufacturing processes. Hence it is essential that the bioplastics are
synthesized in a sustainable manner where there is limited carbon footprint. It
is time that we pay heed to this issue with utmost exigency and no room for
laxity. Let’s thus pledge to act now and reduce our plastic consumption than
regret when the damage is irreparable.