BioPlastics – Another Easy Way to Conserve Petroleum Supply

There are two easy ways to conserve petroleum supply by over 10% annually in the US (and higher still in countries where petroleum is used as a major energy source for electricity production). The first is to stop burning oil for electricity. There is just no need to be using petroleum (products) for electricity production given the plethora of alternate options available, including natural gas, (clean) coal, nuclear, wind, hydro, and waste. If we didn’t burn oil for electricity production, oil refinement, process heat, and heat for industrial buildings, a good 13% of annual usage could be conserved.

The second way is a full-out switch to bioplastics. Right now, plastics consume at least 1 of every 10 barrels of oil in the US every day. That’s a lot. And considering that we can now produce a 100% plant-based PET product made from fully renewable sources that has a molecular structure identical to petroleum-based PET products, there is no reason not to switch to bioplastics. The only reason they are currently more expensive than petroleum based plastics is economy of scale. If everyone started investing in them, the costs would come down as the resulting investment would fuel R&D which would, in turn, create better materials that can be synthesized quicker, easier, and more cost effectively.

But it’s not going to happen until, as the author of this recent article in Environmental Leader on turning plants into plastics hints at, one of two things happen:

  • Supply Chain Sustainability Catches On in a Big Way
    And the leaders decide to move to bioplastics en-masse before oil-based plastics become prohibitively expensive. Or
  • Government Mandates the Move to BioPlastics
    The tax credits suggested by the author won’t be enough. The government has to mandate it, because, unless the tax credits make bioplastics significantly cheaper, the average organization will hold off on the switch.

Personally, I’d like to see the government ban non-bioplastics for all common uses in industry and retail. Just like I’d like to see them ban the use of oil for electricity production. Reserving oil for transportation (where electricity still isn’t an option most of the time), agricultural and construction machinery, and (family) home heating, where it would cost too much to retrofit millions of homes, would decrease petroleum need by about 25%. That’s 1 in 4 barrels saved for future use. This would not only extend the life-span of our oil supply, but keep costs down as well.