Bioplastics = Better Plastics?
Bioplastics and plant-based materials have gained popularity in recent years as a more eco-friendly alternative to conventional plastics. While they offer several environmental benefits, there are questions about whether they are safer for human health than traditional plastics. In particular, concerns have been raised about the potential toxicity of chemicals in bioplastics and plant-based materials. But are bioplastics and plant-based materials safer than conventional plastics?
Regarding chemical composition, bioplastics and plant-based materials are generally considered safer than conventional plastics. This is because they are made from renewable resources such as cornstarch, sugarcane, and potato starch rather than petroleum. As a result, they typically contain fewer harmful chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates.
Conventional plastics are made from petrochemicals, which can release toxic chemicals into the environment and pose a risk to human health. For example, BPA, used in producing some plastics, has been linked to various health problems, including reproductive disorders, cancer, and developmental problems in children. In-vitro studies have shown that BPA can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body, disrupting hormonal balance and potentially causing harm.
Bioplastics and plant-based materials offer several benefits over conventional plastics, such as:
Bioplastics and plant-based materials are made from renewable resources such as corn, sugarcane, and potato starch, which are biodegradable and compostable. This means they can eventually be broken down by environmental microorganisms, reducing waste in landfills and oceans for centuries.
Reduced Carbon Emissions
The production of conventional plastics is energy-intensive and relies on fossil fuels, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, bioplastics and plant-based materials are produced using renewable resources, which can help reduce the carbon footprint of plastic production.
Increased Consumer Demand:
As consumers become more aware of the environmental impact of plastic waste, there is a growing demand for sustainable alternatives. Bioplastics and plant-based materials offer an eco-friendly option that can appeal to environmentally-conscious consumers. Also, bioplastics and plant-based materials are generally considered healthier for the human body than conventional plastics.
But do bioplastics and plant-based materials really contain less toxicity than conventional plastics?
In-vitro studies have shown that bioplastics and plant-based materials have similar toxicity to conventional plastics. For example, a study published in Environment International found that toxicological and chemical signatures materials varied with the respective product rather than the material. Another study published in the journal Chemosphere found that biodegradable polyesters had lower toxicity than traditional plastics regarding cell viability and inflammation.
It is important to note that not all bioplastics and plant-based materials are created equal. Most may still contain toxic chemicals or additives, such as plasticizers, that can leach into food or the environment. It is also worth noting that bioplastics and plant-based materials may break down slower than advertised and may require specific conditions to degrade properly.
Conducting thorough testing and evaluation is essential to ensure that bioplastics and plant-based materials are safe for human health and the environment. In particular, in-vitro studies can provide valuable information about the potential toxicity of these materials. They can be used to evaluate the effects of different concentrations of a particular chemical or substance on a specific cell type or tissue, which can help to identify the precise mechanisms by which a specific chemical or substance may be toxic to cells or tissues.
Compared to conventional plastics, bioplastics, and plant-based materials seem safer and more environmentally friendly. However, it is essential to ensure that these materials are produced to avoid using toxic chemicals that may risk human health. In-vitro studies provide valuable information on the potential toxicity of materials. They can help identify the mechanisms by which a particular substance may be toxic to cells or tissues. In-vitro studies provide the first evidence but are insufficient to determine health and environmental impacts comprehensively. So far, the precise effects of plastic chemicals on humans and the environment are still unknown. Therefore, further studies are needed that evaluate the risk of plastics and their alternatives. To achieve a more sustainable future, it is vital to prioritize the development and use of materials that are not only environmentally friendly but also safe for human health.