One hundred years ago, most of our society’s fuels, construction materials, textiles, inks, and paints were derived from plant matter. By the 1980s, petroleum had flooded the market, and today over 95 percent of our industrial products and fuels are petroleum-based. Petroleum-based products come from non-renewable resources that require highly polluting extraction processes. These products can be dangerous to workers and their disposal can be costly for manufacturers and harmful to the environment. One solution to this problem might be materials made from plant matter, e.g. sugar cane waste, potatoes, vegetable oils.
In 1992, ILSR’s work on plant derived plastics and other materials led to our co-hosting the first International Workshop on Biodegradability. Some forty scientists from around the world discussed the elements of a common definition and testing protocol for biodegradable materials. The concept of a Carbohydrate Economy – one that uses plant-based chemicals to replace petro-chemicals – was born. This work continues today through our Sustainable Plastics Initiative. As part of our Sustainable Plastics Initiative, ILSR now hosts the Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative, which is helping purchasers, policymakers, and NGOs navigate the maze of new and emerging biobased plastics and guiding the marketplace toward sustainable biomaterials. This work focuses on networking, building collaborations, and catalyzing interest in sustainable biomaterials.
We are tracking bioplastic companies and their products; documenting venues utilizing and composting bioplastics; securing commitments from businesses and government agencies to adopt the Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative’s sustainability criteria for purchasing bioplastics; and recommending policies to build a homegrown biobased economy that supports family farms and rural development.