The production of plastics from renewable sources constitutes the next frontier in the search for ways to mitigate our dependency on oil and reduce our environmental footprint. The country at the forefront of these tantalizing developments, however, is not commonly perceived as being a technology powerhouse. Brazil is leading the way in this industry after decades of research and commitment to a technology based on sugarcane ethanol. The technology has proven to be environmentally sustainable and potentially capable of changing the way we manufacture everything, from personal care products to automobiles.
Unlike typical plastics made from crude oil, “bioplastics” are often made from plant matter such as corn starch, potato starch, cane sugar, and soy protein. A potentially renewable alternative to petroleum-based plastics would have the long-term benefits of reducing global warming pollution and our dependence on fossil fuels, but do bioplastics fit the bill? As they become more ubiquitous—in the form of grocery bags and disposable plates, food containers, and cutlery—numerous concerns have been raised about their true value.