Submitted to: Elsevier
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/8/2012
Publication Date: N/A
Interpretive Summary: Petroleum-based plastics are non-renewable and are not sustainable products. Researchers at the ARS Western Regional Center reviewed the field of starch-based plastics. Starch-based plastics are based on agricultural starches and are renewable. This review helped show various areas where further research and development will increase the commercial viability of starch-based plastics.
Technical Abstract: The environmental impact of petroleum-based plastics is a growing concern throughout the world. Containers and packaging comprise the largest sector of municipal solid waste and are a major component of pollution on both land and sea. Although the benefits of plastics in many consumer and industrial products are well recognized, renewable alternatives are needed for a more sustainable future. Starch is an abundant, biodegradable, renewable, and low-cost commodity that has been used in multiple ways to make alternatives to petroleum-based plastics. Starch can be made into a thermoplastic material but its poor mechanical properties and moisture sensitivity limit wider use. Starch-based plastics with improved properties have been made by blending starch with other polymers, using moisture resistant films, and by creating composite materials using fibers and inorganic materials. Starch is also an important fermentation feedstock for the production of other important biopolymers. The prospects are promising for an ever increasing role for starch in the development of sustainable packaging and other bioproducts.