Since 1950, the world has produced 9.1 gigatons of plastic with only 2.1 of that still being used today, leaving 7 gigatons for disposal. Of that number, about nine percent of it was recycled and twleve percent incinerated for energy, leaving a whopping 5.5 gigatons of plastic left on the Earth in landfills, litter, water, and according to new research, in our bodies and wastewater treatment systems as clothing fibers. Most common plastics, made from petroleum or other fossil derivatives, may take over a thousand years to biodegrade. The duration varies widely by how much sunlight the plastic receives, therefore plastic at the bottom of a landfill or in the ocean can sit for over a thousand years (half the common era of humanity!!)
For perspective, let’s say the average life expectancy is 67 years globally, so someone born in 1950 would be 67 now. With the global population sitting at 7.5 billion people and an average weight of 80 kilograms per person, the entire weight of the population is roughly 600 megatons. During the span of one human lifetime, the world will leave about 9 times the total weight of every human currently on Earth in plastic waste, all of which will require up to 15 times longer decompose than it took to create. Furthermore, the plastic waste created within that one human lifetime could potentially burden more human lives than the culmination of every life that has come before it, yet we are still producing an accelerating 450 megatons per year. Common plastic manufacturing needs an alternative before the whole world is composed of plastic.
Bioplastic technology is slowly but effectively introducing itself into the marketplace, making it increasingly more viable as an alternative to common plastics. As of now, bioplastic technology could substitute for 90 percent of common plastic use, and although all types are not biodegradable, many of the emerging blends are. Additionally, all bioplastics are made from mostly renewable sources, so the sustainability of these plastics seems encouraging as well.
Various currently known bioplastics include Polylactic acid (PLA), bio Polyethylene (bioPET), Plastarch, and bio high-density polyethylene (bioHDPE), but the most promising new bioplastic blend was developed and patented by a University of Florida professor named Stephen Miller, called Gatoresin. While other bioplastics meet some of the pressing constraints of our common plastics, the Gatoresin is the first in development to meet all the resilient qualities of a fossil-based plastic as well as the environmental qualities.
Gatoresin plastics are in the class of PFA/PHFA’s (polyferulic acid derivative) and are made from polymers from lignin in plants. The plastic is marine and biodegradable and can be recycled as well as remanufactured. US Bioplastic CEO, on the forefront of expediting this new technology into the marketplace, has recently closed on two six-figure loans from private investors and a Florida public institute loan for the commercial development of the material.
It seems for the sake of mitigating ecological plastic contamination, we might should suppress our beef with the University of Florida and support the mass development of Gatoresin or similar PFA/PHFA’s. The bioplastic industry as a whole is accelerating upward and is predicted to reach an annualized growth of 17% with a value of 7.8 billion USD by next year. With the actual growth of the industry uncertain, one thing remains, the lasting burden of petroleum based plastics.
How do we plan and implement a market swap from a dominant common plastic manufacturing industry to include emerging bioplastic technology? Can the market drive such a drastic economic change? Or do we need political influence? How would it affect future generations if we do not address this issue soon? Above all, how do we going to respond to the increasing credibility that the University of Florida has gained from this great discovery?