December 2010

Volume 19, Number 12

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Study Says Bioplastics Not Necessarily Greener

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Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh ranked various plastics based on their environmental impacts and found that bioplastics (made from corn, soy, and other agricultural materials) do not always outperform petroleum-based plastics. The study, published in Environmental Science and Technology, looked at 12 plastics using life-cycle assessment (LCA) as well as several other green design principles such as recycled content, biodegradability, price, and feedstock transport. Bioplastics ranked at the top of the list according to green design principles but only made it to the middle of the list when LCA was used. Polyolefins, including high- and low-density polyethylene and polypropylene, ranked at the top of the LCA rankings despite their petroleum origins. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), along with polyethylene terephthalate (PET, typically used in bottles) and polycarbonate, came in last in both sets of rankings.

Comments (2)

1 Link to Study posted by Evan Halstead on 12/14/2010 at 09:07 am
2 BioPlastics LCA Study posted by Mitch Kennedy on 12/14/2010 at 01:20 pm

Certainly the headline is a bit of a shocker. However the details are a bit more telling. There was no consideration of end of life, or even useful life of the plastics (i.e. the study was only "cradle to gate", not "cradle to grave" or cradle to cradle". Also there is no consideration of the internal manufacturing effects - i.e. some resins can be re-used on-site (i.e. pre-consumer recycling), while others change structure once going through forming processes (injection molding, extrusion, etc..) and can not be recycled in this manner.

Given the focus on front end Life Cycle I think this would be a major factor in the design choice for resin type.

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November 24, 2010