Plastic is one of those things that we need for our modern lives, but which is a major source of pollution of our land and oceans. Plastics are also petroleum-based, which means the production of plastics could become unsustainable if petroleum costs rise.
But a new option known as bioplastics, which are made using biodegradable, and sustainable, plant materials, may be on the horizon.
A five-year study funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found that using bioplastics for planters and pots could help reduce landfill waste while also helping gardeners grow plants. This is because the pots, which are biodegradable, release nutrients into the soil as they break apart. These nutrients are good for root growth and plant health overall.
The study also found that, while bioplastics are a little more expensive than petroleum-based plastics in the current market, that could change in the future. In the meantime, many gardeners seem willing to pay a little extra for something that is both environmentally friendly and has the added benefit of the aforementioned nutrients.
“Our results show that people may be willing to pay a premium for sustainability and for the fertilizer option,” says James Schrader of Iowa State University, one of the study’s authors. “The market will start small, with smaller growers selling to environmentally minded clients, but that’ll get the ball rolling, and market share will evolve as prices for bioplastic approach equilibrium with petroleum-based plastic.
In addition, consumers buying bioplastics also seem to prefer them to look “earthy” and not be manufactured to resemble petroleum-based plastic. This would help manufacturers to cut down on production costs.
While the researchers behind the study know they’re looking at a niche market at the moment, they do think the use of bioplastics could spread further with time. As they become cheaper to produce, a variety of companies in different industries might be convinced to switch over to using them instead of petroleum-based plastics, especially for products that aren’t intended to last forever.