Sustainability of Biobased and Biodegradable Plastics



Advances in science and technology have resulted in the rapid development of modern society, which is clearly unsustainable because of the strain it places on current resources. The energy and materials needed to sustain the present society are derived primarily from non-renewable fossil resources, which will be depleted at some point. Plastics are one example of an important commodity in the modern lifestyle. While plastics are undoubtedly superior materials in terms of their costs, processability and functional properties, they are currently derived from fossil resources and they are not readily assimilated by the various ecosystems upon disposal. The search for biodegradable plastics that are derived from renewable resources has been ongoing since the 1970s. Two of the most promising biobased plastics, i. e., polylactic acid and polyhydroxyalkanoates, have received much attention as potential alternatives to existing processes. This article will discuss the current status and sustainability of these two next generation biobased plastics by taking into consideration the raw materials required, as well as the post-consumption effects of these materials on the environment. In addition, important issues surrounding the development and sustainability of biobased and biodegradable plastics will be highlighted.