Plant-Based Plastics Not Necessarily Greener Than Oil-Based Relatives

Biopolymers are the more eco-friendly material but farming and energy-intense chemical processing means they are dirtier to produce than petroleum-derived plastics, according to study in Environmental Science & Technology.

Plant-Based Biodegradable plastic and compostable plastic made from Poly-lactic acid or PLA may NOT be so compostable after all says Stanford University Students from the Stanford Daily.

Over the past few months Stanford has been conducting their own studies on these”corn based plastics” that have been approved by BPI (Biodegradable Products Institute) and they have come up with staggering results.

The compostable PLA plastic, NOT so compostable. Journalists from the Stanford Daily have dubbed the project “ForkPrint” as in our carbon footprint. They have asked other students at Stanford their thoughts on these compostable corn based plastics in their YouTube videos posted on their website.

During the course of their “ForkPrint Project” they interviewed two local compost facilities if the corn based plastics are accepted, one responded “organic certification forbids the inclusion of most bio-compostable products”.

The other facility had reservations if these products do actually work if put under 1 inch of soil. Their thoughts on corn based PLA plastic in a compost environment was the PLA plastic takes too long to “biodegrade” and that their compost is out the door in “10 to 14 weeks” . Compostable standard ASTM D6400 is 25.7 weeks or 180 days which is different than the rest of the world, at 90 days.

World Centric a certified BPI compostable company stated, “We want them to be both durable and renewable,” Pointer said. This durability can make compostables difficult to degrade. World Centric’s Web site estimates that it may take six months in a commercial facility for these products to be processed, and up to two years in a backyard pile. World Centric says their major selling point is that they are made from corn and wheat straw, not fossil fuels.

So we ask the question, if this is the major selling point why do they need to be claiming compostable?

When it isn’t compostable in compost facilities? Recently, another BPI Certified company was sued by the Attorney General of Vermont for misleading residents into believing compost facilities would take the PLA compostable products, when in fact they do not. Regardless of the “certified compost facilities” located on the “trade organizations” website.

“ForkPrint Project” of Stanford University studied the PLA products and through their studies found that 40% of PLA corn based products are thrown into landfills.

They also found that the agriculture land that is required to make the “sustainable” plastic is actually creating more disaster to the environment from the cheap fertilizers which create Nitrous Oxide a potent greenhouse gas that is 310 times more potent than Co2 and the pesticides used are destroying topsoil.

Their findings also found that by placing “compost” bins in the schools students are not placing the items into the right “compostable” containers and students are placing in “regular” or “non-compostable” plastic into the compostable bins.

The belief of students is that these “compostable” products are placed into landfills where according to PLA President they do NOT biodegrade so they are just like every other plastic product.

The West meets the East – Students at Stanford meet the Students at University of Pittsburgh, Students at the University of Pittsburgh did a Life Cycle Assessment on PLA compostable plastic made from the major manufacturer and found that the Ozone depletion created from PLA is more than Polyethylene and Polypropylene.

This tells us the more environmental solution would be enzyme-bacteria based biodegradable and compostable plastic, as the Stanford University students at the Stanford Daily are saying reduce your ForkPrint and keep Re-Using.

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