We are at a critical crossroads in our world where plastics have become an inseparable factor in our lives and we are the generation on our planet to truly understand the far-reaching impacts that plastics are having on our environment, and yet, we are the last generation that can truly make the biggest impact in solving these challenges. Today, our world is becoming increasingly toxic due to the pollution of our air, water, and land. For a healthy planet and human population, we simply must stop the production of such toxic substances and return to the use of natural substances that are safe and do not compromise our own health and our global environment. Everything we do, from the food we eat to the medicines we consume , affects the world around us — but it wasn’t always that way. The Industrial Revolution changed the way that we created everything, from food and energy to sanitation and manufacturing technologies. During the plastics explosion of the mid-20th century, the industries like pharmaceuticals, cosmetics , Packaging jumped on the plastics bandwagon along with many other industries. Plastics could be molded into packaging that was light, flexible, and sturdy. Items that had been packaged in heavy, delicate glass could be transported farther and more easily. And how this industrialization impacted the environment? Pharmaceutical products enter the environment at various stages of their life-cycle, but particularly during the production phase. One of the main threats is that discharging antibiotics into the environment can promote the natural development of antibiotic-resistant pathogens that are harder to treat. The pollution of pharma products into the environment also adversely affects fish living in contaminated water. Cosmetic or Personal Care Industries which has been serving us since decades for our own personal hygiene or be it aesthetics are also one of the contributors of our environmental degradation
Shampoo, lotion, and deodorant often contain a chemical that can cause as much damage to the environment as emissions from car exhaust fumes during rush-hour traffic. Plastic microbeads often used in cosmetics like exfoliating face scrubs and toothpaste where thousands of tons of microbeads washed into the sea every year. Here they not only harm wildlife, but also humans. Because fish tend to eat the beads, and you end up with a plate of fishy microbeads. Glitter is usually made using etched aluminum bonded to polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Just like the microbeads , glitter is a form of microplastic.
But how are these products selling in the markets or deliver to the customers? When you as a customer goes to a supermarket , you tend to select the product having an aesthetic or customer friendly Package. But have you ever wondered whenever you buy a packaged product after unwrapping it what happens to that package and where does it go? With context of that , we are facing our biggest problem in Packaging turning into litter. Packaging like fast fashion ,food, cosmetic , pharmaceuticals and disposals follow the linear model of take -> make -> use and dispose where packaging becomes litter which represents a negative externality : the cost to clean it up again , the recycling process , landfills accommodations and many more. One of the main reasons for why Packaging is a threat is it’s material of construction and the time period or shelf of its usage.
Now that we’ve realized what an impact these industries has and is still having on the environment, what can we do to fix it? Here is where the route to sustainability will take us to a better future. We cannot eliminate plastics anyway but how about using a plastics which is made from the waste and are degradable without causing much harm to environment? Yes , Bioplastics are becoming a big deal as brands and corporations of every size and in every industry sector look for materials, packaging, and ingredients with less environmental impact than plastics made using petrochemicals. Beauty makers like Unilever and L’Oreal are taking other approaches to make plastic more sustainable and to reduce its use in the industry all together. Lush Cosmetics introduced with “NAKED PRODUCTS ” . Lush improved the recyclability of their package by using just one material securing the design and composition of the product . The new technology uses biological mechanisms to break plastic down into new usable materials.
In Pharmaceuticals industries , bioplastics like biocompatibility and bio-absorbable which makes them usable and ideal in biomedical applications like tissue engineering. PLA is widely used in tissue engineering, due to its physical and chemical properties, to construct the scaffold. Although PLA presents a decent level of satisfaction in tissue engineering applications, its properties need to be enhanced to meet ideal requirements of tissue engineering.
Bioplastics of renewable origin are compostable or degradable by the enzymatic action of micro-organisms which has led to their tremendous innovative uses in packaging in the last few years. Starch-based bioplastics, bio-polyesters, PLA plastics ,genetically modified or naturally occurring organism-based bioplastic and Cellulose are commonly used bioplastics in Packaging.
Among the widely used bio-based plastics, PLA is widely used but every coin has two sides . PLA does have some drawbacks such as:
• Low relative glass transition temperature which makes it unsuitable for high temperature applications.
• PLA is more expensive than fossil based plastics.
• It changes the pH value of the soil. It makes it more acidic.
But there is a biopolymer PHA (Polyhydroxyalkanoates) which has shown tremendous results and has many benefits over PLA such as :
• PHAs are bio-origin, biocompatibility, biodegradability, transformations of toxic materials by microorganisms is done naturally.
• The production of PHA polymers is independent of fossil resources and hence is cost effective than PLA .
• It has additional unique properties such as piezoelectricity, and excellent barrier properties. Application areas in which PHA polymers offer unique values include medicine, cosmetics, pharmacy, and eco-agriculture.
Moreover, nowadays PHAs have found applications for both short-shelf life products like fresh fruits and vegetables and long-shelf life products, like potato chips and pasta.
Bioplastics aren’t the only solution to plastic pollution, but yet it is one of the reliable sources to cut down the plastic pollution crisis. Proper technology and implementation can surely curb down the threats to the environment.