human geography, bioplastics, climate change
One of the biggest challenges remains that confront mankind is the mitigation of climate change(C.C). This paper investigates the contribution of energy to CC, in particular plastics.
The notion of bio-based plastic is explored to combat the problem of human-induced CC. It analyzes its effectiveness and limitations in the developed countries. The major contribution to CC arises from exceeding amount of input and output of energy from fossil fuels . In turn, releases a large 1 amount of greenhouses gases(GHG), more specifically carbon footprint. As a result, increased concerns for threats to and an unsustainable environment are the main drives to find alternatives 2 to fossil fuels.
Bioplastics which are known to be biodegradable may be an essential contribution to reducing reliance on fossil fuels and thus reduced the emissions of man-made GHG . While 3 4 bio-based plastics reduce GHG emissions, transitioning to bioplastics may be a challenge due to perceptions of mankind on quality and benefits .
5 Bioplastic may be able to replace fossil plastics and is one of the ways to minimize the effect of CC.
The intervention of bioplastics already existed in the 1850s, thus not a new concept. Plastics itself has integrated mankind life and it is becoming more a threat to the environment as they are not biodegradable. As a result, an accumulation of gases is emitted into the environment, increasing GHG and favoring CC. More specifically, increased GHG emissions are reflected in the quantum of plastic production and disposal. Fossil plastics are made of polymers derived from fossil hydrocarbons. Examples of fossil-based plastics are polyethylene terephthalate(PET) and low-density polyethylene(LDPE). They are known for their advantageous applications respect to stability, low cost, and durability . This versatility and 6 easier accessibility lifestyle has lead to an acceleration in the manufacturing of plastic. 7 Moreover, arguably plastic is the major source of packaging, generating from 2x106 metric tonnes(Mt) per year in 1950 to 381x106 Mt per year in 2015 . This threat issue has provoked
many scientists to substitute fossil fuel based plastics with biodegradable ones such as bioplastics. Bioplastics, on the other hand, are plastics that are biodegradable as they are synthesized by the conversion of biological sources. Such sources can be extracted from sweet potatoes, soya bean oil, sugarcane, and cornstarch . Furthermore, bioplastics appeal to scientists, 9 economists, and governments for they decompose rapidly without generating a net increase in carbon dioxide. According to NatureWorks, Polylactide acid (PLA) is an example of bioplastic that saves two-thirds the energy compared to fossil plastics. PLA produces almost 70 percent less greenhouse gases when it degrades in landfills . Furthermore, bioplastics decay into natural 10 materials that do no damage to soil and some even can break down within a few weeks. The process of these bioplastics breakdown involves molecules of the biological sugars to absorb the water slowly and swell up. It causes them to break apart into small fragments that microbes can digest more readily. Because of this favorable impact and influence on the environment, there a corresponding increase in bioplastic production. The production grew from less than 2MT in 1950 to 7.5MT in 2017, and is expected to contribute to a growth of more 20% of global plastic 11 production by 2020 which is part of an EU Renewable Energy Target.
Greenhouse gas emissions generally are more favorable for bioplastics as they can lower the indirect and direct GHG emissions and require less energy input for the production. Since a large number of plastics are produced for packaging, the idea of bioplastics packaging has been introduced by several sectors including supermarket chains, food service, and in the agricultural industry13 , all to minimize the fossil-based plastics waste. Packaging is now accounted for 37% from bioplastics in Europe (Cereals, pg 36). In a Dutch Bioplastics food packaging review, a list packaging application made from bioplastics, namely PLA is shown and adopted by different companies. For instance, coffee and tea cardboard-cups used by KLM, PLA salad bowls by McDonald’s, PLA potato chips bags by PepsiCo's Frito-lay . Although, the production of 14 bioplastics from different crops varies in the reduction of GHG emissions, nevertheless, all of these plants sources generally significantly lower the GHG release relative to fossil-based plastics. The Stichting Wageningen Research demonstrated a graph in which compares the production of bioplastics of PLA, bio-based PE, bioethanol from 5 crops and of the fossil fuel-based counterparts PET, LDPE ethanol and petrol. The graph captured that the bioplastics score much better than fossil fuel based products. It is clear that all bio-based products require less than 30 gigajoules per ton. Whereas, all fossil-fuel based require more or less the same energy use for their production, approximately 80 gigajoules per ton. Additionally, sugarcane and miscanthus show to be using significantly less energy than other crops, giving it a negative value with -30 gigajoules per ton . This means that both sugarcane and miscanthus are the most 15 attractive crop to produce bioplastics from, for they take less input of energy and thus means emit less GHG. Another piece of evidence that indicates bioplastics have a potential contribution to lower GHG, in combating CC is an analysis of Mater-Bi bags. Life Cycle Analysis was performed by Novamont on Mater-Bi , a bioplastic brand comparing to polyethylene bags (PE). 16 The result indicated that the manufacturing of Mater-bag uses relatively less energy than PE bags, as well the GHG output for the Mater-Bi bags is significantly lower than that for PE, showing a 60% reduction output.
Despite their potentials offer a reduction of GHG, bioplastics nevertheless have limitations that create potential barriers for higher growth; both perceptions on bioplastics and debates on relative land use for non-food production have triggered in-depth discussions. The former is mainly concerned with financial cost and personal benefits .The latter deals with the 17 land use required for bioplastics production from crops. The perceptions on bioplastics retain decision makings by the government and bioplastic industries as consumers have found that bioplastics are more expensive and feel that there is no personal value added for them. Firstly as of 2011, the price was 1.5 Euros per kilograms of PLA and bulk of bioplastics cost 3-6 Euros per kg
Fossil-based plastics, however, was 1.3 euros per kg converted from Chinese yuan. Further 18 studies of that conducted by Gabriel et al have highlighted that consumers are willing to pay small premium fee for locally food containers produced by sugarcanes compare to fossil fuel 19 containers. Secondly, opinions arise from they did not want their shopping bags to be biodegradable. More specifically, they do not want their bags to lose their characteristic of long-lasting. In addition, they do not want products stores in these bags to dissolve inside . This 20 argument can be concluded as a personal benefit, as it puts stress on convenience and health risks for the consumers. Thirdly, other participants also have raised questions that distress whether the bio-based materials are invented for benefit of the environment or merely a sale trick, way of greenwashing while making additional profits and taking advantages of them. Because of these negative associations and attitudes or perceptions about bioplastics, it is a challenge to reduce use of fossil-based plastics to lower GHG emission. Another limitation of increasing production and consumption of bioplastics is the increased demand on of natural resources of the land. It has led to questioning the shift from fossil-based to bio-based in relation to real GHG savings. CE Delft shows a comparison with respect to the resource use, specifically focused on land, for the production of fossil-based and bio-based (per kg plastic). As reported, it is clear that while fossil-fuel based requires no land, bio-based requires 2m2 . Hence bioplastics production land 21 use is much higher than that of fossil-fuel based plastics. Increase production of bioplastics correspond to increased area conversion from forestry to agricultural land, this not only affects the climate change due to imbalance net increase of Co2 from the trees released into the atmosphere but also an impact on biodiversity due to reducing habitats for species .
Bioplastics are expected to contribute more than 20% of the EU Renewable Energy target by 2020. Since this mass production of bioplastics is expected to continue, it is necessary to ensure that assessments of bioplastics are undertaken, may it be an investigation in environmental, social and economic impact. In other words, it is necessary to evaluate both the benefits and limitations of bioplastics in terms of combating climate change. This paper though has found out that bioplastics have shown to lower the GHG emissions through its lower input energy, when compared to fossil-fuel based plastics and minimize the effect on climate change. The paper has also shown that a complete shift from fossil-fuel based plastics to bioplastics may not necessarily be a positive outlook. It can cause higher demand on agricultural lands from forests which leads to higher emissions from deforestation and thus reverses the effects of carbon sequestration.
A suggestion for further research can be done on the impact of different types of bioplastics have on climate change. Perhaps to see which type of bioplastics can be best synthesized with the minimize effect on CC.
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