Plastic is the most widely used substance in the world. We use different objects in our daily life made of plastic, including plastic bags, plates, toys, containers, etc. It has made the life of people easier as it is economically available, and there is no danger of its exhaustion.
It is a lightweight material used for making different utilities-based products in our daily life. It has made the storage and logistics of goods very feasible.
Plastic has tremendous utility, but apart from that, it is a severe concern for the environment and the earth. It is a non-biodegradable substance that takes many years to degrade. It emits toxicity into the soil due to its chemical composition. When it is burnt, it releases harmful gases into the atmosphere. These are all consequences of the use of plastic that raises the need for its alternative.
There are numerous alternatives to plastic that can be used to save our earth.
Wood is an environmentally friendly substitute or alternative to plastic as it is biodegradable and causes no direct harm to the environment like plastic. Woods can be used as fuel, furniture, cutlery, and many other things; wooden toys are also used. It is economical, readily available, and emits deficient carbon when burnt.
Wood poses some concerns, like large-scale cutting of trees, which leads to soil erosion, and smoke from burning wood causes lung problems. Though wood is a great substitute, the large-scale cutting of trees for wood raises another environmental problem.
Bamboo is one of the most superior substitutes for plastic. It is an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and naturally decomposable alternative available. It is very durable and robust. Nowadays, various objects are made from bamboo, like utensils, cutlery, furniture, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, etc. Bamboo is also used for flooring and making sports equipment like skateboards, bike frames, etc.
Bamboo is eco-friendly and organic as it does not require any fertilizers and can grow with less water than similar plants. It emits 30% more oxygen than other similar plants. It matures fully in just 3 to 4 years of the last harvesting.
Bamboo products are readily available. They are economical and have no harmful effects on health and the environment, making them an excellent plastic alternative.
Jute is naturally grown soft and shiny fibre primarily used for making bags, mats, carpets, sacks, ropes, bags, etc. It is a robust, rough, and durable fibre. India is the leading producer of jute in the world.
Jute is an attractive substitute for plastic because it is reusable, low cost, durable, bio-degradable, and naturally grown. It is also grown without chemical fertilizers, making it sustainable and organic. It is the most efficient and renewable packaging material than plastic.
Paper is another good substitute for plastic. The most widely harmful form in which plastic is used is plastic bags which cause a severe threat to the environment. Paper bags are a suitable replacement for plastic bags; they are economical, bio-degradable, lightweight, and readily available.
Paper packaging has some limitations, too, like it can be easily torn and is not waterproof, which retards it in the race for an alternative for plastics. It is suitable for dry items but not suited for wet items.
Even after that, it is a widely used packaging material in place of plastic.
Glass is a standard alternative to plastic. It is used in the form of glass water bottles and cutlery items made from Glass. Glass is a cost-effective, lightweight and reusable option.
It has some drawbacks; it is non-biodegradable, brittle, non-recyclable, and needs to be handled with a lot of care.
Now the government is also using glass bottles instead of plastic bottles to promote the reduction in the use of plastic.
Bio-plastics are plastics that are made from vegetable oils, sawdust, woodchips, and starch, making them recyclable and biodegradable. These are mainly used for making packaging materials, potteries, and food containers, the area in which plastic is used primarily.
To biodegrade bio-plastic, there should be a well-established waste disposable system that requires a little extra effort.
There are several types of bio-plastics like: -
a) PLA Polyester
PLA is the abbreviation of Polylactic Acid polyester. It is the second highest most consumed bio-plastic in the world. It is a filament material used in 3D printing and various consumer products like disposable tableware, cutlery items, and electronics items like laptops. It is also used for medical implants such as anchors, screws, plates, pins, rods, and mesh.
PLA is a biodegradable plastic that can decompose, but the decomposition rate is very slow in landfills, whereas it can degrade effectively in temperatures above 60 degrees. It is treated by recycling, composting, incineration, and landfills.
b) PHA Polyester
PHA stands for Polyhydroxyalkanoates, a kind of polyester having bio-degradable properties, making it a perfect substitute for non-biodegradable plastic.
PHA is used for making various medical substances related to tissue engineering, memory enhancers, drug carriers, and biodegradable implants.
PHA is insoluble in water and resistant to UV rays. It is stiff, decomposable, and highly polymerized. It has also properties like thermoplasticity, piezoelectricity, moisture resistance, aroma barrier, and biocompatibility.
It is very environment-friendly because it is prepared from non-fossil fuel sources and can be decomposed. It can be the replacement of all kinds of plastics like polyethene, polystyrene, polypropylene, PVC, PET, etc.
c) Starch-based bioplastic
Thermoplastic is a starch-based bio-degradable plastic, and it is the most widely used bioplastic throughout the world. It has a 50% share in the bio-plastic market. These plastics are primarily used for preparing drug capsules in pharma industries and packaging.
It can be prepared by galvanizing starch and solution casting. Starch-based bioplastics amylose and amylopectin provide high mechanical properties.
It is made up of starch that is cheap and abundantly available. It has properties like thermal stability, renewability, and moisture resistance.
d) Cellulose-based bioplastic
Cellulose-based bioplastics are made of cellulose esters like cellulose acetate, celluloid, and nitrocellulose. It has good mechanical strength, is water resistant and gas permeable.
But it is pretty expensive, so generally not used for packaging.
e) Protein-based plastic
Protein-based bioplastics are made from glycerol and proteins like wheat gluten, albumen, casein show, rice, soy, and gluten blends. Protein-based bioplastics are not much water resistant and also have a high cost.
f) Lipid-based bioplastic
Lipid-based bioplastics are derived from the fats and oils of plants and animals. Polyurethanes, polyesters, epoxy, and resins are developed from oil-based materials. It is naturally available in abundant form with no environmental loss.
Leaves are used in loose packaging and as plates for eating food in place of plastic containers. Using leaf plates is hygienic and organic and also has traditional values.
The plates made of leaves are usually known as pattal or patravali. The most commonly used leaf is the banana leaf; others are Peepal and Sal leaves. It is an environmentally friendly substitute for plastics.
Plastics have made our life easy; plastic materials surround us, but it is causing devastating damage to our environment. As a result, it has emerged as a significant threat to our health and the earth. Various alternatives are available to us in place of plastic, which allows us to save people and our planet.