The Truth About Bioplastics
A Vancouver-based expert on plastics is vying for greater public education about the different kinds of plastics on the market following Ottawa’s recently revealed plans to eliminate all single-use plastic in its governmental operations.
Love-Ese Chile, a specialist and consultant in the bioplastics field, has noted that not all plastics are created equal. According to her, it is essential to understand the subtle differences between them when it comes to drafting public policy that will actually make a positive impact. Talking to Stephen Quinn of CBC’s The Early Edition, Chile stated that at the moment, the majority of people are confused about bioplastics.
On a good day, she said, some of the material will be recycled. However, the worst-case scenario will see almost all of these plastics sent straight to the landfill, which could be devastating for the local environment.
Better Plastic Labeling Needed
Currently, different types of plastics are differentiated by the use of identification codes, according to the Alberta Plastics Recycling Association. These codes are each in the form of a number, for example, 1 stands for PETE which is used for drinks bottles and 2 is for HDPE, which is used for plastic bags and milk jugs. Unfortunately, to date, bioplastics have been lumped together in a single category.
Chile added in her interview that every other traditional plastic has a number associated with it, but all bioplastics fall into the #7 category, commonly known as ‘Other’. She is adamant that legislation is needed for labeling, and that better infrastructure is needed for the collection, breakdown, and recycling of these plastics.
Elaborating, Chile noted that there are in fact three different major categories in the sustainable plastic world. These encompass those that are bio-based, those that are biodegradable, and those that fit both of the aforementioned criteria. She believes that one of the biggest problems is the catchall name ‘bioplastics’, which can get very confusing.
Crucial Changes Must Be Made
Bio-based plastics are made out of biological materials, such as polylactic acid that is formulated from plant sources like cornstarch. Biodegradability refers to the materials’ ability to decompose within the environment. Clearly, not all of these materials are biodegradable, and not all are made from bio-matter, which is precisely why Chile is pushing for the clarification of their terminologies.
By 2015, researchers have warned, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean, which has resulted in a frantic push towards reducing plastic use. One Vancouver mayoral candidate has even suggested banning single-use plastics outright, while Victoria and some BC communities have already banned plastic bags and straws.
Chile says that these kinds of changes are helpful, but that they don’t target the larger problem. She believes that our fundamental interaction with plastics needs to change, from the way we use them down to the way we dispose of them.