Should Sustainability Include Using Farmlands for Plastics, Textiles and Dyes, or Food?
by Clare Goldsberry (Plastics Today) A presenter at the recent ANTEC conference posed a provocative question: Are biobased materials really sustainable? — He (Professor Majid Sarmadi of the University of Wisconsin-Madison )pointed out that sustainability goes beyond whether or not to use conventional plastics, but should take into account how other materials affect the environment, as well. For example, Sarmadi noted that a 500-ml plastic water bottle weighs 7.5 grams, while a 500-ml glass water bottle weighs 250 grams—33 times more.
“Thirty-two percent of greenhouse gases are added to the environment just to transport glass containers,” said Sarmadi. “People say plastics last for decades, but let’s talk about glass—it stays for eternity! The EPA has forced glass makers such as Saint-Gobain and Owens-Brockway to reduce the air pollution that manufacturing glass containers produces.”
True. Saint-Gobain, in a nationwide legal settlement over violations of the Clean Air Act, agreed to install new air pollution control equipment at an estimated cost of $112 million, and to pay a $2.25 million civil penalty. Owens-Brockway Glass Container Corp.’s facilities in the Pacific Northwest also were inspected, evaluated and considered to be under the EPA’s New Source regulations for pollutants.
Sarmadi pointed out that thanks to synthetic materials, consumers in the United States pay just 3% of their annual incomes for clothing in today’s economy compared with 20% in 1901. When consumers cry out for using natural products, many do not understand what they are really asking. Natural textiles, dyes and biobased or plant-based plastics require a lot of farmland, farm equipment (mostly gasoline powered), water, pesticides, herbicides and the energy to transport the naturally grown materials, not to mention the low yield of biobased plastics.
Sarmadi does not approve of biodegradable materials, noting that they produce methane gas, which is 20 times more harmful to the environment than CO 2. He does promote the idea of converting all waste to oil. Biodegradability or decomposition just breaks down plastics into smaller pieces. If you convert it to dust, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s a very complex issue. READ MORE