Parkesine, however, was also the first bio plastic — a plastic made from renewable plant material instead of fossil fuels. And today with the environmental impact of plastics greater on the public mind, bioplastics are making a big comeback. They’re proposed by some as the solution to beaches deluged with plastic and fish bellies stuffed with bottle caps. And perhaps bioplastics can replace oil-based polymers that commonly trash oceans with materials that can break down more easily and would protect a planet already smothered in these resilient substances.
Bioplastic items already exist, of course, but whether they’re actually better for the environment or can truly compete with traditional plastics is complicated . Some bioplastics aren’t much better than fossil fuel-based polymers. And for the few that are less injurious to the planet, cost and social acceptance may stand in the way. Even if widespread adoption of bioplastics occurs down the line, it won’t be a quick or cheap fix. In the meantime, there is also some pollution caused by bioplastics themselves to consider. Even if bioplastics are often less damaging than the status quo, they aren’t a flawless solution.
, the pro-environment non-profit, has said, “Plant bottles are not the answer.”
Additives mixed with conventional plastics to speed up biodegradation don’t seem to help either. Oxo-degradable products are standard plastics that are chemically treated to quickly fragment when exposed to sunlight and oxygen — but they don’t break down entirely. And because these plastics are otherwise no different from untreated versions, the microplastics they produce can still pose (environmental hazards) . The European Union is currently working to ban oxo-degradable plastics. Generally, it appears the starting material is less important than what it’s turned into, making the ideal plastic both biobased and biodegradable. A few of these polymers do exist, but they disintegrate only under certain conditions.