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Bioplastics From Nanotechnology: Alternatives to BPA In Plastic

Updated on March 17, 2012

Plastic From Nanoparticles And Plants

Flickr pic by jarodcarruthers
Flickr pic by jarodcarruthers

Bio-nanohybrids and BPA Dangers

Bisphenol A has been entering into the collective consciousness of many health-concerned consumers as the controversial effects of the organic compound receive more scientific scrutiny. BPA in plastics has been identified through various studies as an endocrine disruptor whose hormone-like properties can be linked to noticeable neurological damage and other effects such as BPA exposure related obesity. The United States' National Institute of Health and the National Toxicology Program have both released statements expressing concern over the effect of bisphenol A on the brain. As a way to consume only BPA free products, shoppers have been avoiding plastic containers and canned goods that contain the toxic bisphenol compound. Nanotechnology has entered the marketplace of bioplastics and the future could hold hope for bioplastics that are made with special nanoparticles which can have some of the green effects attributed to bioplastics as well as being a new source of packaging material for manufacturers.

Any recycler could tell you that plastic is divided into 7 different classes, each with its own plastic identification code which is imprinted somewhere on the product. The number within the recycle triangle, and the lettering below, can alert one as to the plastic polymer type that is used. Plastic classes 3 and 7 are the groups most likely to contain the suspect Bisphenol A which can seep into food and drink products. Bioplastics are a P type of plastics that are developed from renewable sources and, by nature, the bioplastic materials are not subject to the BPA in plastic problem. PLA and PHA are two of the more promising bioplastics that are desirable because of their biodegradable properties and their origin from simple fermented cane sugar. Due to pricing and other issues, neither has really taken a significant stronghold in the free market just yet. Enter bio-nanohybrid materials and green nanocomposites. These could be the desirable alternatives to bioplastics and bpa in plastic that everyone has been looking for.

Nanotechnology has been explored extensively at Utrecht University. Positioned in Utrecht, Netherlands, the public university holds prestige as one of the largest universities in Europe and one of the oldest schools in the Netherlands. Nuzzled in at spot 48 between the University of Utah and the University of Vienna in the Academic Ranking of World Universities, there are advances being made in that Dutch province. Using nanoparticles, researchers have shown the world the feasability of converting plants into normal plastics, not just bioplastics. A nanoparticle iron catalyst converts plant material into plastic that is the same as the oil-derived petrochemical versions. While not biodegradable, the bio-nanohybrid material is a push in the direction of renewable resource production. The Dutch design implemented a catalytic process which tiny iron nanoparticles separated by carbon nanofibres. Add a little hydrogen, carbon monoxide, ethylene, and propylene and you get plastic. One benefit of their method is the reduction of the unwanted methane waste product.

Bioplastics are still relatively expensive when compared to the petroplastic alternatives. Plastic from plants is surely years away before even initial production can begin. In the mean time, early adopters and health-conscious consumers must continue to avoid BPA plastics as much as possible. Precycling has become a popular term for those looking to eliminate the plethora of packaging that consumers are inundated with. For now, some of the best tips for avoiding bisphenol toxicity are the simplest ones. Things like using glass bowl for food storage and reheating procedures instead of tupperware (see comments below) or invasive plastics can be benefical to one's health. Tin cans with epoxy liners and plastic bottles can all leak the dangerous chemical into one's diet. Animal testing seems to show problematic activity with even relatively low levels of ingested BPA. The science may be controversial, but you have to ask yourself who are the players and how are they positioned to benefit from hiding the truth behind any harmful additive or chemical. This is true for things like fluoride, aspertame, and others as well. Is it not better to be safe than sorry? By doing so one can be more eco-friendly and realize a better health status at the same time.


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    • againsttheodds profile image

      againsttheodds 5 years ago

      Thanks for the update Caits Tupperware. I did a little checking and indeed see that most new Tupperware has transitioned to BPA-free polypropylene (PP #5) and LDPE (#4) type plastics as well as not using polycarbonate in children's products or baby bottles. It looks like the Spring & Summer 2012 catalog is pretty safe. Good on Representative Edward Markey (Massachusetts) for petitioning to get the FDA to ban Bisphenol-A outright.

      Somethblue, as far as hemp goes, I am all for legalization of the plant in the USA as an increase in hemp plastic/bioplastic production might be beneficial and the war on marijuana is insanity.

    • profile image

      CaitsTupperware 5 years ago

      Tupperware is BPA-free. :)

    • somethgblue profile image

      somethgblue 5 years ago from Shelbyville, Tennessee

      Perhaps had we not made Hemp illegal in 1937 we could have created biodegradable food containers from Hemp as Henry Ford was on verge of doing before Big Oil (plastics),the Paper Industry ( Hearst ) and the Steel Industry not shut him down.

      Hemp was on the verge of putting all those monopolies on the shelf but the Big Three conspired to shut that industry down and did so with the help of who else the AMA.

      Read Did the Illegal Criminalization of Marijuana Lead to the Down Fall of America

      to truly understand what was at stake!