by Jenny Tsai, Project Analyst
Global sustainability efforts stemming from the United Nations’ Brundtland Commission to maintain, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” have evolved in every market. The pharmaceutical market has also responded to the call for accountability in environmental, economic, and social dimensional stewardship. One solution is to invest in innovations surrounding renewable biomass resources, such as bioplastics, in lieu of the common fossil fuel based resources. Renewable energy has become the industry buzzword that is the driving force for future economies and technologies.
Sustainability efforts will grow as fast as consumer demand increases. Walmart was one of the first retailers to look at greenhouse gas emission in its supply chain and is a driving force in the retail market that is indirectly creating a sustainability mandate on manufacturers. Walmart’s goals are to be supplied by 100% renewable energy, to create zero waste, and to sell products that sustain people and the environment . In order to achieve measureable results, Walmart is playing a large role in helping to establish a global Supplier Sustainability Index. Suppliers’ motivation to “perform” in the key Sustainability Index has created a trickledown demand in the supply chain to create a product that is cost efficient and sustainable for people and the environment. These initiatives will continue to upsurge as fossil fuel resources decrease, its byproducts’ prices increase, and as consumers support environmental friendly advancements in their daily purchase decisions.
Bioplastics is the intuitive answer to the sustainability paradox and its use in sustainable manufacturing has increased over the years. Bioplastics are plastics derived from biological materials such as vegetable fats and oils, corn starch, pea starch, or microbiota. These raw materials contrast greatly against their sister fossil fuel plastics which are derived from petroleum or crude oil. Petroleum supply is finite and fossil fuel-based plastics produce more greenhouse gases and larger carbon footprints. Bioplastics are designed to biodegrade and allow for greater throughput; lower material usage; better heat, impact, and chemical resistance; and reduce overall product cost.
Bioplastics are in the early stage of development and are not cost-competitive with the well-developed fossil fuel-based plastics. Bioplastics are proving to produce cost savings from its product nature. PLA (Bioplastic that is derived from corn starch, tapioca projects, or sugarcanes) -based medical implants can dissolve in the body and patients save money from not having to endure a second operation. Farmers do not need to collect compostable mulch films after each use. These examples are a few of the natural advantages of using bioplastics in production. As global attention is swiftly moving towards sustainability initiatives, bioplastics and other renewable and recyclable technologies will become the rule and not the exception. Technologies and innovation will also respond to the direction that the market takes. The natural response to demand increase will be cost decrease.