It’s so easy to throw away a plastic straw or get a plastic bag to hold a few items as you walk back to the car. But our unconscious actions have been piling up – we’ve globally produced about 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic since 1950 and as of 2015, only 9% of that has been recycled.
Companies worldwide are getting serious about investing in bioplastics, with market projections saying that it will reach over USD 27.9 billion by 2025. In particular, we at Coradam Green have noticed that the jewellery industry has been shifting to using sustainable packaging alternatives like bioplastics throughout their supply chain.
What are Bioplastics?
To put it simply, bioplastics are plastics that are made using sources of renewable plant or animal material instead of petroleum, like in typical plastics.
It’s important to note that not all bioplastics are biodegradable. Biodegradable means that the plastic can be broken down into water and carbon dioxide by microorganisms within the appropriate environment of light, water, heat, or oxygen. By this definition, there are biodegradable plastics that are made from petroleum.
[For more details on biodegradable plastics and other types of degradable plastics, stay tuned for our next article!]
Types of Bioplastics
Bioplastics are made from a large category of materials which grow larger as new materials are made. Here are the most common types of bioplastic.
Starch-Based Bioplastics: Created from starches like corn, rice, or tapioca starch
Cellulose-Based Bioplastics: Created from cellulose, taken from wood pulp
Protein-Based Bioplastics: Created from proteins like wheat gluten and soy protein
Aliphatic Polyesters: Aliphatic is the description of the molecular main chain composition for a kind of polyester. These are considered bio-based polyesters because of their excellent biodegradability.
This category includes Polylactic Acid (PLA), extracted from the sugar in corn starch, cassava, and sugarcane, and Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), produced by microorganisms, sometimes genetically engineered.
Where are bioplastics used in the jewellery supply chain?
Typically, bioplastics are used in the production and logistics phases of the supply chain. Only suppliers and manufacturers are directly affected by these choices; the consumer isn’t usually involved.
During the production of a single piece of jewellery, up to twenty plastic bags are used throughout the process: the 3D-printed model, wax injection pattern, stone sorting, casting, filing, polishing, gem setting, and also for findings, components, precious dust collecting and finally jewellery exporting.
Jewellery suppliers and manufacturers are involved in reducing the number of plastic bags needed. The bags are reused as often as possible by most companies, but there are many instances where the bag is not salvageable. Bags are occasionally gathered, discarded, and damaged so that a new bag is necessary.
Sometimes it’s necessary to use a plastic bag only one time. For instance, the plastic bags used for shipping or those that are heat-sealed for security purposes are discarded after use.
What happens when we recycle or throw away bioplastics?
You’ll have to wait for our next post for more details, but we’ll say this:
You can’t recycle all plastics. And with the plastics you can recycle, the quality of those plastics is reduced each time it’s recycled.
Not all bioplastics will degrade on their own. Many need specific conditions like high temperatures to break down. And many bioplastics become microplastics, tiny pieces of plastic that last for decades and eventually enter our food chain.
Till next time, Go Green!
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