of Pittsburgh researchers have found that plant-based
plastics are not
more environmentally friendly than petroleum-derived
Tabone, lead author of the study, along with University of Pittsburgh
researchers Amy Landis, James Cregg and Eric Beckman have analyzed
the environmental benefits of plant-based plastics versus oil-based
plastics and found that biopolymers are not as green as previously
biopolymers are a more environmentally friendly materials that beat
other plastics when it comes to toxicity and biodegradability, the
chemical processing and farming required to create this material
makes it not so eco-friendly.
came to this conclusion by observing 12 plastics.
Seven of them were petroleum-based polymers, four were biopolymers
and one was a hybrid of the two. Researchers then gauged the health
and environmental effects of the raw materials, energy and chemicals
used to create one ounce of plastic
pellets by performing a life-cycle assessment (LCA) on each
polymer in its preproduction stage. When the polymer reached its
"finished form," researchers checked each polymer again for
energy efficiency, toxicity, wastefulness and biodegradability.
study concluded that biopolymers were more abundant
polluters than the others during the production process. The
reason for this, according to researchers, was because of extensive
land use for farming, the intense chemical processing, pesticides and
fertilizers. In addition, the study says the four biopolymers were
"the largest contributors to ozone depletion." These
biopolymers also beat the petroleum-based polymers when it came to
carcinogen emissions and ecotoxicity.
the negative aspects of the path to production of biopolymers, this
material trumped conventional polymers once it was put to use.
Biopolymers are more eco-friendly after production. On the other
hand, "ubiquitous" plastic polypropylene is a clean polymer
to produce, but becomes less eco-friendly once put to use. The
University of Pittsburgh researchers have provided a chart to show
environmental contributions of each polymer.
study was published in Environmental
Science and Technology.