Greenwashing products like bioplastic as being eco-friendly or biodegradable may be good for a brand's environmental PR, but it falsely lures consumers into having a clear conscience. They may envisage their coffee cup rapidly disintegrating back into organic matter, but in most instances this isn’t the case.
‘Bio-based plastics are placating customers with a guilt-free quick fix while increasing general waste volume and costs,’ notes Paul Jackson, editor of Recycling and Waste World. ‘It’s sidestepping the urgent issue: the nine billion tonnes of plastic already in existence.’
The widespread use of bioplastics is also fostering an open loop-system in which new resources are continually required to create more of these materials. Most bioplastics are made from carbohydrate-rich plants like corn, sugarcane or sugar beet, driving demand and concern for the world’s finite amount of arable land. The Green Alliance has voiced its concerns that as demand for bioplastics increase, deforestation will escalate because we will struggle to provide enough crops for these materials, let alone that required for biofuels and feeding our burgeoning population.
One interesting solution is proposed by Marco Federico Cagnoni in a project he calls Plastic Culture. The vertical farming concept focuses on growing plants suited to bioplastic production, while still offering ample edible produce. The designer discovered that dandelions and black salsify – both highly nutritious – also naturally contain high quantities of latex, therefore creating a more economical system for the production of both food and bioplastic.
While it should be acknowledged that bioplastics are an admirable attempt to reduce our reliance on oil-based materials, brands must be careful not to jump on the bandwagon and pose these materials as a miraculous solution to our plastic problem without considering their complete life cycle. Currently, the infrastructure in place cannot support their degradation and so, by continuing to assume that they will just disappear, we are doing more harm than good. Let's address the nine billion tons of plastic waste that already exists – not add to it.
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