Recycling Industry Hates Bioplastics, Designers Love It

Bioplastics could potentially be worse for the environment than conventional plastics, according to recycling expert Arthur Huang.

Switching to plastic made from plants instead of fossil fuels would require vast amounts of farmland, Huang said. This could cause environmental problems and deprive humans of food. Huang, founder and CEO of circular-economy engineering company Miniwiz, added that bioplastics can cause damage when they are composted. They make soil and water more acidic, he claimed, potentially polluting both land and ocean. For example, PLA is compostable, not biodegradable. 

Huang cited a United Nations report from 2015 that raised concerns that the public would recycle less if they thought the plastic they used would harmlessly degrade if discarded.

Architect Arthur Mamou-Mani contested Huang’s statements. “It’s a very, very clean material,” said the French architect, who built a pavilion out of 3D-printed PLA for fashion brand COS as part of Milan design week last week.

A better solution is to recycle bioplastics instead of composting them, Huang said. “If we switch the name and recycle it seriously and stop single use, that could be a good solution. Single-use is where all the problems begin.”

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