Hello CICLO readers, this is Melisa bringing you another blog. This time I would like to introduce a new biodegradable plastic company from Mexico called Biofase. The most unique part about their products is that they are made from avocado seeds!
Plastic from avocados?
Yes, you read it right. These biodegradable plastic products are made from avocado seeds. They are one of the first biodegradable plastic company solely producing their products directly in Mexico (in comparison to importing biodegradable plastics which increases their price). They produce cutlery and straws to replace conventional plastic-ware. Their main marketing point is that the raw material used to make these products are considered agricultural waste (since avocado seeds are not consumable most Mexicans just throw them away). In contrast to other biodegradable plastics already in the market, Biofase’s products do not use plants which are considered food sources such as corn, potato, cassava, tapioca and sugar cane. Moreover, they state that their products can biodegrade anywhere there is land and does not necessary need to be solely composted. Biofase says that their products can help reduce global warming by reintegrating the carbon used to make their products back into the natural environment (planting more avocado trees which grow to remove CO2 from our atmosphere). Sounds great right? Well, keep reading to learn about the fine print.
What about the fine print?
Biofase’s products are only produced using 60% biopolymers from the avocado seeds and the other 40% are what they call unnamed “synthetic organic compounds”, meaning they use some compounds which are used to increase strength, taking them longer to degrade. They market their products as being able to degrade in 240 days, however this number highly depends on several environmental conditions such as heat, moisture and microorganisms present at the end of its use. This means that if their conditions are not optimal for their degradation, then they might take much longer to disintegrate. Leaving more time for these bioplastics to travel to the ocean, resulting in our current plastic pollution problem.
Is “biodegradable” and “compostable” really the solution?
Companies like Biofase are on the right path to creating alternatives for plastic, however they still cannot be thought of as “the solution” to our plastic problem. The idea that biodegradable means it can be thrown in the soil or in the streets and it will eventually “go away”, is not a good way to market these products. I think this is the common misconception about the new fad of “compostable” or “biodegradable” dishware which makes people think they are a better alternative to plastic. In fact, they can be just as harmful as conventional plastics if they are not disposed of correctly.
The most commonly used bioplastics are PLA or Poly Lactic Acid. These types of bioplastics are made from biomass (usually sugar cane or starch) where lactic acid is extracted and is then polymerized (small molecules chains are combined and made into longer chains) creating a strong and durable resin material. Usually these PLA materials need to be placed in relatively high temperatures for them to be completely compostable (most composting facilities cannot maintain temperatures at these high rates). Although PLA bioplastics may not be using fossil fuels as raw material which take 500 years to degrade, they are still using valuable food resources which several take years disintegrate (giving them enough time to find their way into the oceans anyway).
Final thoughts about Biofase and other PLA bioplastics
I think the consumers of biodegradable and compostable dishware and utensils really do believe that they are doing “the right thing” for our planet but really we might be doing just the same amount of damage as conventional plastics. I think the worst part is making people think that just because products are labeled “bioplastic”, “biodegradable” and “compostable” means that they can be disposed of anywhere because they are just made out of plants and natural material, right? Wrong. We have the technology available to use solely biomass material however when products are made this way they are relatively weak, cannot stand high heat or humidity resulting in a short shelf-life (not the most suitable for restaurants and eating establishments). So most of the time they are blended with conventional plastics or as Biofase states “synthetic organic compounds” to increase their strength and shelf-life (pleasing their potential customer’s needs).
The best way to reduce our impact on our planet is to completely avoid plastics or bioplastics all together. Try to bring your own dishware, bottles and utensils if you have to take-out and reduce your amount of bentos bought at convenience stores. Also, next time you see something labeled “bioplastic” be sure to think how exactly it was made and how it should be disposed of correctly.
Thanks for reading! I hope you learned something new today. If you want to read more about Biofase visit their website. Information used to write this blog is down below. See you next time!