Dean Ernst is the Co-Founder of Essential Company, a brand of all-natural hard candies infused with pure essential oils and...Read more
Sales of hemp-based bioplastics are beginning to proliferate North America, as hemp continues to enjoy a revolution. Its popularity as a raw material has exploded in recent years thanks to the deregulation of cloth in the States and the growing acceptance of the cannabis Sativa plant family as a whole.
The convergence of demand, technology and the deregulation of hemp material open the door for this new range of alternative polymer solutions, and THE HEMP PLASTIC COMPANY (THPC) is poised to supply manufacturers worldwide. With over 50 million lbs. of polymer capacity per harvest, this breakthrough represents a supply far more significant than any previously available.
Unlike other bioplastics using vegetable materials as filler, THPC has developed a revolutionary process to separate the various parts of the hemp plant, adding them individually to the bioplastics as needed to enhance the polymer properties. THPC can add benefits such as fiber strength, and tap into natural flexibility attributes that are found within the hemp plant, then ultimately shared with this innovative polymer.
Manufacturers may now choose biodegradable, renewable, sustainable (in some cases, even compostable) plant-based alternatives, suitable for thermal form, blow in, injection mold or film, hemp plastic effectively reduces plastic pollution down to a design decision.
Have We Reached Peak Plastic?
If there was ever a time for the introduction of large-scale, bio-friendly plastics manufacturing, generated from renewable resources like hemp, it’s now. As of 2015, the world had produced 6,300 million metric tons of plastics, of which only nine percent had ever reached a recycling plant. Nearly 80 percent of these plastics simply ended up in the oceans or the natural environment. Experts predict that by 2050 if the status quo of plastic consumption remains unchanged, the natural environment will carry upwards of 12,000 million metric tons of the stuff.
As consumers slowly wake up to the crisis of plastics in our environment, there has been a slow rise in plastics recycling over the years, but not by much. The rate of recycling growth grew on average by 0.7 percent per year between 1990 and 2014. This less than one percent yearly increase in plastic recycling did little to the roughly 105 million metric tons of new primary plastics pumped out in 2015 alone.
Even though the apparent plastic-based environmental catastrophe headed our way, the world just can’t seem to quit producing new plastics. It’s an addiction. Yet if all plastics on the market today miraculously made it into our recycling bins tomorrow, recycling is only a delay of the inevitable. Eventually, all plastics reach the end of their useful lifespan and require some sort of disposal.
Enter Hemp Based Plastics
Because of society’s widespread addiction to using plastics, innovations in biodegradable, renewable materials are a hot topic, however, part of the issue with eco-friendly alternatives to petrochemical plastics is the price difference. Until very recently, renewable plastics just couldn’t keep up with the bargain basement prices of the oil industry. Yet, Best Practices Packaging might have found a formula that works. Through a unique and well-curated partnership spanning across North America, Tubbs of BPP believes he may have landed on a reliable, competitive solution to the pricy bioplastics currently in the North American market.
BPP has teamed up with the largest producers of nutritional hemp products in North America and the largest flexible packaging company in the USA to finally commercialize the hemp packaging and plastics industry on the continent. Tubbs saw a need to reuse leftover hemp waste from the nutritional hemp side of the business, which was usually sold as cattle feed, and recycle it into a useable packaging for the nutritional products themselves. Necessarily he envisioned using leftover hemp from the nutritional hemp business into packaging for the nutritional hemp business? A revolutionary idea.
Bio-based, Bio-sourced and Plant-based
The Oxford Dictionary defines “bioplastics” as a type of biodegradable plastic derived from biological substances rather than petroleum. This is what we call “bio-based”. The “bio” refers to natural. However, oil and petrol are to some extent also “biological”. They’re the residue of biological entities such as animals and plants that have been pressured and processed for millions of years.
Maybe the “Bio” from bio-based and bio-sourced should not only refer to “biological (entities)” but also to “biologically friendly” in the sense that they respect the fauna and flora and the ecosystem. Then again, how do you define biologically friendly?
Another aspect would be to look at the renewability. To what extent can you renew or how long do you need to restore a plant or a crop? To what extent or how long do you need to replace oil and petrol?
Biobased plastic or Bioplastics are plastics made from renewable biomass such as:
Cellulose, Hemicelluloses, Lignin, Vegetable fats and oils, Corn starch, Pea starch, Potato starch and Sugars from sugar cane and sugar beets
However, recently there have been many inventions and scientific breakthroughs. We will be able to make bioplastics from
Avocado, Seaweeds and algae, Shrimps, Cactus, Grapes, Fish scales, Insects, Safflower, Mushrooms, Etc.
When the renewable biomass comes from a plant, it can also be referred to as plant-based plastics.
Plastics vs Polymers
When we use the word plastics, we mean polymers. Plastics is not a substance or material; it’s an attribute (plasticity).
Plasticity is the name used to describe the property, feature or attribute of all materials which can deform irreversibly without breaking. This attribute refers to the production process and not usage. We can mold a polymer to give it a specific form (ex: a plate). The polymer survived the molding and production process because of its plasticity.
What we refer to as plastics are usually organic polymers of high molecular mass mixed with other substances (additives). These polymers and additives are generally derived from petrochemicals except in the case of bioplastics…or shall we say biopolymers.
Biodegradation and compostability
Bioplastics are also capable of biodegrading or decomposing back into its natural elements, under the action of bacteria or enzymes (bio-degradable).
There’s a difference between biodegradation and composting. Biodegradation refers to a process that starts without human intervention and where the residue is not necessarily compost. Composting refers to a process started by human intervention, and here the end residue is used for compositing purposes. Read more on the difference between biodegradable and compostable.
Applications of bioplastics
There’s a wide range of bioplastics applications such as;
Rigid and flexible packaging materials, food and drink containers, dining utensils, electronic devices, automotive and airplane parts, cable sheaths and casings, noise and thermal insulation panels.
End of life, Lifecycle and Waste Management
When a plastic or bioplastic object has accomplished its purpose, it reaches it’s end of life and is usually discarded. Now comes the billion-dollar question: what shall we do with the plastic and bioplastic waste?
Here are some options
- Reuse, recycle, biodegrade, compost, incinerate, landfill
Firstly, bioplastics need to be sorted, collected, treated and processed for their second life. How do you differentiate between different types of bioplastics? Some packaging is made from several materials, often referred to as laminates. How do we separate these layers? How do we sort them? How do we remove the glue, colorants, and additives? This falls under waste management.
1862 – Alexander Parkes creates the first human-made polymer from an organic material derived from cellulose. It was a bio-based plastic and was called Parkesine.
1926 – French scientist Maurice Lemoigne developed polyhydroxy butyrate (PHB) from bacterium Bacillus megaterium. The first bioplastics made from bacteria.
1970 – Leo Baekeland invents Bakelite, and it will be described as a National Historic Chemical Landmark due to its importance. Bakelite was a synthetic plastic that was revolutionary for its electrical nonconductivity and heat-resistant properties in electrical insulators, radio and telephone casings and such diverse products as kitchenware, jewelry, pipe stems, children’s toys, and firearms.
1990 – Imperial Chemical Industries (UK) developed a biodegradable bioplastic. It was called named Biopol.
1990 – Commercial demand for bioplastics starts to grow, driven by oil price volatility and environmental concerns.
Bioplastics and the Environment
The environmental impact of Bioplastics should be measured on the following points:
Climate change, carbon footprint and greenhouse gasses littering, use of farmland for bioplastics instead of food production, reduced dependence on petroleum, end-of-life options, life cycle analysis.
Types of Bioplastics
BDO 1.4 butanediol, Bio-based PET, But-1,3-diene, Bio-Epoxy, FURFURAL, FDCA, LIGNIN, PEF Polyethylene Furanoate, PLA polylactic acid, PHA Polyhydroxyalkanoate, PBT polybutylene terephthalate, PBS polybutylene succinate, PDO 1.3 propanediol, PU Bio-based Polyurethane, PTT poly trimethylene terephthalate, PA10 PA11: bio-polyamides from oil.