Bioplastic seen as a viable alternative

Made using plant-based raw materials

December 08, 2018 07:50 am | Updated 07:50 am IST - CHENNAI

With the ban on single-use plastics looming, various alternatives and innovations are being mooted. One of the substitutes that has been researched over the past many years is biodegradable and compostable plastic materials, also known as bioplastic.

Bioplastics are made using a range of materials such as sugarcane, corn and other plant-based sources but are stable enough to be used under controlled heat conditions.

These products can be turned into compost with little damage to the environment as compared to single-use plastics.

The PLA option

Among the many bioplastics, poly lactic acid, known as PLA, is seen as a viable option to single-use plastics.

PLA products are made using raw materials like sugarcane and corn, which are converted into lactic acid and then used to make products.

“PLA products are generally made from plant resources. These products are degradable both under aerobic and anerobic conditions. They do not pollute the environment and can be used for a variety of things such as spoons, plastic containers and tumblers,” Arthi Rathinasabapathy, Phd Biotechnology from CINVESTAV-IPN, Mexico, told The Hindu

A joint venture company, Total Corbion PLA, which has set up a plant in Thailand to manufacture PLA products, is now conducting trials of PLA-based paper cups in Namakkal and Sivakasi.

Cost conundrum

“Using PLA, we can make cups, cutlery, can coat them onto paper…PLA degrades much faster. It leaves no harmful substances (as residue),” Stefan Barot, Senior Business Director, Total Corbion, said.

According to him, it takes just about 1.6 kg of sugar to make 1kg of PLA, compared to other types of bioplastics that require significantly more natural resources. Mr. Barot said the company set up a plant in Thailand since it is one of the top sugar-producing countries in the world. India too offers the same advantage.

Dr. Arthi said one of the issues with such alternative sources of plastic is the high cost of manufacturing.

“The cost is almost 50 times higher. Only if demand for such products increases will costs come down,” she said.

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