Location: Bioproducts ResearchTitle: Plant-based materials and transitioning to a circular economy
Submitted to: Sustainable Production and Consumption
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/13/2019
Publication Date: 4/18/2019
Citation: Shogren, R.L., Wood, D.F., Orts, W.J., Glenn, G.M. 2019. Plant-based materials and transitioning to a circular economy. Sustainable Production and Consumption. 19:194-215. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.spc.2019.04.007.
Interpretive Summary: Plant-based materials play a major role in transitioning to a “circular economy”, i.e., traditional petrochemically-derived materials are produced from renewable resources, degrade without damage to the environment and then are used as food by living creatures. Bioplastics account for less than 1% of total plastic production. Cellulose and starch are abundant, widely available plant-based materials used for paper, packaging, food service items, bags and biofuels. Biopolymers made from fermented starch or bacteria may be processed like petrochemically-derived (traditional) plastics. Production costs of biopolymers are expected to decrease and allow replacement of some traditional plastics with biopolymer plastics. Plant-based materials are sustainable and can contribute to a circular economy since they can be composted or burned to carbon dioxide. Research and innovation in plant-based materials has led to the introduction of a myriad of new products and jobs. Support from government, industry and consumers can help speed the transition to a bio-based circular economy.
Technical Abstract: Plant-based materials play an integral part in transitioning to a circular economy. Bioplastics are a growing industry but still account for less than 1% of the total plastic production. Cellulose and starch are abundant, widely available plant polymers that are used extensively for paper, packaging, food service items, bags and biofuels. Poly(lactic acid) (PLA) which is derived from starch by a fermentation process and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) which are renewable, microbial derived biodegradable polyesters that can be processed similar to various commodity plastics. Both polymers are projected to grasp an increasing market share of commodity plastics as production costs drop. Other synthetic biodegradable polyesters and plant-based commodity plastics are commercially available and have expanding markets. The growing use of plant-based materials will have environmental benefits including waste reduction, lower greenhouse gas emissions, promote rural investment, reduce the volume of harmful chemicals/pollutants, conserve ecosystems and biodiversity, and will help transition to the circular economy.