Global awareness of the negative impact of plastic waste on the environment has been growing rapidly for many years now. As consumers have become more aware, demand for alternatives has increased and companies have been under pressure to introduce replacement materials for items such as packaging. However, many of the substitutes that have been introduced are equally as bad for the environment or in some cases worse.
Demand from consumers has pushed companies to switch materials without taking the time to properly research their impact, resulting in well-meaning but essentially useless changes. Duncan Clark is Head of Business Operations at Teysha Technologies, a company that has designed and patented a revolutionary second-generation bioplastic that has the potential to resolve many of the issues industries are facing in terms of finding a suitable alternative to plastic. Teysha’s plastic substitute is derived from renewable resources and can be naturally broken down at the end of its useful life, without leaving behind harmful pollutants.
While consumer demand pushing for more environmentally conscious packaging is driving real change, it has also resulted in changes being made too quickly and without proper consideration. The fast food chain McDonald’s famously replaced its fully recyclable plastic drinking straws with paper straws in response to consumer demand but was later forced to admit that there could be issues with recycling them. Food and drink packaging that claims to be recyclable is often lined with aluminium and other non-recyclable materials or fitted with polyethylene caps.
Bio-based polymers are recyclable and represent a step in the right direction, but these plastics are generally still derived mainly from petrochemicals. Some companies have replaced plastic bottles with glass, which is easily recyclable but has a manufacturing process with a significantly higher carbon footprint. Companies seeking viable alternatives to plastic for packaging and other items need to take the time to research the environmental effect of the manufacturing process and the availability of recycling infrastructure before making hasty changes.
Biodegradable biopolymers could provide the long-term solution the industry is looking for when it comes to plastic substitutes that offer the consumer the same convenience as plastic, but with a reduced impact on the environment and less plastic waste to end up in oceans or landfill.
Matthew Stone is the Managing Director of Teysha Technologies and a specialist in transferring technology from the laboratory to industry. Developments in polymer technologies such as those developed by Teysha have the potential to provide solutions that will meet consumer demand, protect the environment, and offer a viable alternative to plastic across multiple industries.