Sunday, June 6, 2010

Alternatives to Oil in Plastics

I had originally planned on getting the majority of our plants in the ground over the past few days.  I have, however, been sidelined with back pain from overdoing it in the garden and reorganizing the house.  To move forward with our pledge to do something every day to live better, I spent many hours researching ways to reduce our dependence on oil, and I ordered a new cell phone.  That may sound incongruous, as most new phones would represent market demand for new oil, but wait...

I'm not a techo-gadgety type, but it was finally time to upgrade my cell phone.  I've been avoiding getting a new one because each new phone represents more oil-based plastics.  With the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, I was expecting to feel some guilt in contributing to market demand for petroleum. 

My carrier offers a couple of cell phone models at no cost to customers, and the offers change every couple of months.  This time, their free offerings included the Samsung Reclaim, a phone that boasts 80% recycled materials, and 40% of new plastic used as corn-based bioplastic.  Of course, I would be happier if the phone were manufactured in the USA, and if there were no components made from new petroleum, but is a step away from oil dependency. 

In order to prevent another disaster, we need to reduce our overall consumption of petroleum.  But, can we do this when we are so accustomed to our conveniences and gadgets which are often made of plastics?  One emerging option is bioplastic.  Bioplastic made from corn is already used to make plastic containers for organic and natural cosmetics and in water bottles. 

Walmart, in its efforts to do damage control and revamp its image, has given bioplastics its largest market boost by agreeing to package some of its produce in bioplastics.  I'm not suggesting that people now shop at Walmart, but the fact that the largest retailer in the US is now using some bioplastics funnels more resources to the bioplastics industry. 

Of course, there is a catch.  We could easily be trading Big Oil for Big Agribusiness.  While bioplastics can be made from the starch of many different soures, much of it comes from corn.  Also, some bioplastics are being designed to come from genetically modified sources.  If we opt to continue producing corn on gigantic farms requiring large amounts of petroleum-based agricultural chemicals and petroleum-based fuels to run the extra-large farm equipment, there will be a tipping point where we will not be saving on petroleum consumption. 

The issue that would hit consumers more immediately, however, is that bioplastics cost about twice what petroleum plastics cost.  That may change, however, as petroleum costs continue to rise and newer, more efficient ways to manufacture bioplastics are developed.

As alluded to in my last blog entry, I'm putting together a comprehensive guide to reducing oil dependency.  I will be adding a section on bioplastics where their application seems appropriate.  I will let everyone know when it's completed.

Live better, a little every day.

Supporting links:
USA Today Article on Biodegradable Plastic
BioBag, 100% Biodegradable & Compostable Plastic (made from non-GMO plant starch)
Corn Plastic To The Rescue (Bioplastics get a boost from Walmart)

No comments:

Post a Comment