Plastic pollution has been a conundrum in modern consumerism. On the one hand, few materials are as convenient as plastic. On the other hand, few materials have left such a negative environmental impact as plastic. However, companies are introducing bio-based products into their manufacturing more frequently. Now that a new program backed by the USDA is sweetening the deal, will bio-based products be able to adequately counter the effects of plastic pollution?
Bio-Based Products in the Manufacturing Industry
Just as the threats associated with plastic pollution are nothing new, the presence of bio-based products in corporate manufacturing were initially implemented some time ago. Advances in plant-based plastics have allowed Coca Cola to forge a 100% recyclable bottle, 1/3 of which consists of biological plant-based plastic. Coca Cola hopes to further reduce plastic pollution with a bottle fully comprised of plant-based bio-plastics that will also be completely recyclable. While such an achievement would be a milestone in combatting plastic pollution, it may not be that ambitious of a goal considering Coca Cola’s already established achievements. They have already successfully manufactured a bottle made entirely from bio-plastic, though it was not fully recyclable.
The Ford Motor Company is also at the forefront of the bio-based product revolution, doing their part in the fight against plastic pollution by utilizing a soybean-based oil as a substitute for approximately 12% of its petroleum-based elements used in seat cushion foam. Ford also took a page from Coca Cola’s book, using the same bio-based plastics designed for Coca Cola bottles for fabrics in car upholstery.
Adding Financial Incentive to Bio-Based Product Manufacturing
A loan-guarantee initiative has been in play for some time with an eye to advocate ethanol and biodiesel fuels. However, the USDA is now allowing companies working in bio-based plastics, rubbers, and similar materials to be accepted into the program. The program is not specifically focused on curbing plastic pollution though it is an obvious bonus to the main objective. The initiative has existed in some form since 2002’s Farm Bill. President Obama has steered the program with a focus on boosting agricultural economy through advanced and innovative methods, such as bio-based manufacturing. The loan guarantees will extend lower interest rates to companies working in bio-based manufacturing who are looking to build new plants.
The Impact of Bio-Based Manufacturing on Plastic Pollution
While the verbiage of the loan-guarantee initiative focuses on strengthening agricultural economy through ingenuity, statistics already point to bio-plastics products’ impact on plastic pollution. Coca Cola’s use of a plant-based plastic bottle has combatted plastic pollution with the eradication of over 270,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions since 2009. This is equitable to the amount of toxic pollution emanated from burning 630,000 barrels of oil.
Ford claims that over 3 million of its vehicles now make use of soy-based foam plastic in seat cushions. Plastic pollution prevention is certainly not the company’s only motivation, considering Ford saved an estimated $4.5 million in 2009 through working with recyclable elements. The direct impact on plastic pollution was felt in the company’s actions averting up to 30 million pounds of plastic refuse. In addition, an estimated 1.5 million pounds of oil use have been cut through the incorporation of bio-based foam in vehicles.
As the government continues to reward large corporations for their efforts in bio-based manufacturing, it’s likely that we’ll see reforms in plastic pollution trickle down through multiple industries. It’s unreasonable to expect modern society to give up its reliance on plastic products. Luckily, continued advances and promotion of bio-based plastics means such unreasonable expectations won’t be necessary.