Traditional plastics are products of the petrochemical industry. In addition to the pollution caused by oil extraction, transportation and refining, oil is a non-renewable resource.
Our current supply of crude oil is formed from plankton which lived in the Jurassic period, some 180 million years ago. Oil is a finite resource, and estimates for when resources will be exhausted vary wildly according to whom is making them.
Given the finite nature of global reserves, and the numerous applications that oil is uniquely suited to, the necessity of choosing oil as a raw material should be considered at all times. Technological developments mean that bio-plastics made from vegetable starches such as potato or corn can be used in place of oil-based plastics.
Raw materials such as potato, corn and cassava are annually renewable and can be produced without environmental harm.
For many applications, starch-based bio-plastics can match or exceed the performance of oil-based plastics. For example, Vegware's natural starch cutlery has a natural flex which means that it is less prone to snapping than standard plastic cutlery.
Virgin wood pulp is used to produce paper plates and cups. Whilst some paper products are produced from sustainably managed plantations, in many parts of the world, first growth forests are still being chopped down for paper production.
An emerging alternative to the use of wood pulp is bagasse, the dry fibrous residue left after sugar cane stalks have been crushed to extract juice.
A combination of high heat and pressure can be used to mold plates, cups, bowls and takeaway containers from bagasse. With the fibers already crushed, considerably less energy is required compared with pulping wood, and there is the additional advantage of using what would otherwise be a waste product.
The final tableware products are suitable for hot and wet foods, and are microwaveable.