Plastic has a dirty reputation. Can bioplastics clean it up?

The bioplastics industry is booming -- but it might not be as green as you think.


January 20, 2020

Photo by Marco Bulgarelli/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Put down that plastic bag and pick up that Parkesine.

The English inventor Alexander Parkes is credited with creating one of the earliest forms of plant-based plastic, way back in the mid-19th century.

Parkes died in 1890, but if he were still around today, he’d be at the forefront of a serious trend.

One word: bioplastics

Troy Farah explored the ascendance of alternative plastics for Ars Technica. He found a market with major potential. Big oil companies are ramping up plastic production as consumers and governments consider a future free of fossil fuels.

A European trade group estimates that bioplastics currently make up just 1% of the 350m+ metric tons of plastic produced each year, but demand is rising rapidly.

It’s not hard to see why. Single-use items like plastic straws are going out of fashion fast — the European Parliament passed a law to ban them by 2021. Last week, Loliware, a purveyor of kelp-based plastics, snagged a $6m investment.

But it’s not easy being green

Here’s the catch: The term “bioplastic” can refer to a wide range of materials. Some of them don’t actually have a smaller carbon footprint than traditional plastics, Farah found. 

It matters if plastics are made from renewable sources. But here’s what matters more: Can those products actually biodegrade? If not, that plastic Coke bottle might still take ages to break down.

Daily briefings, straight to your inbox

Business and tech news in 5 minutes or less

Join over 1 million people who read The Hustle

Psst

How'd Bezos build a billion dollar empire?

In 1994, Jeff Bezos discovered a shocking stat: Internet usage grew 2,300% per year.

Data shows where markets are headed.

And that’s why we built Trends — to show you up-and-coming market opportunities about to explode. Interested?

Join us, it's free.

Look, you came to this site because you saw something cool. But here’s the deal. This site is actually a daily email that covers the important news in business, tech, and culture.

So, if you like what you’re reading, give the email a try.