Are bioplastics the solution to the plastic pollution problem? No, according to research

Since the 1960s, researchers have been searching for “bioplastics” — alternatives to petroleum-derived plastics that can replace conventional plastics. Research shows why these alternative materials do not address the core problem driving plastic pollution—the wasteful use of resources to create “throwaway” products—and instead how they perpetuate the problem. Biodegradable plastics have numerous drawbacks, including raw material needs, dubious ability to actually biodegrade, and high economic costs. No matter how many bioplastics or “environmentally friendly” materials there are, if we do not reduce the production of these types of materials and consequently their waste, there will be no real solutions. We need to be aware of what we consume, support initiatives that promote environmental care and demand the commitment of governments to legislate and enforce laws, as well as encouraging businesses to change their materials and production processes.

The Minderoo-Monaco Commission on Plastics and Human Health report findings suggest a global cap on plastic production as a central provision developing globally binding controls addressing the harms caused by plastics. The goals of this Minderoo-Monaco Commission on Plastics and Human Health are to comprehensively examine plastics’ impacts across their life cycle on: (1) human health and well-being; (2) the global environment, especially the ocean; (3) the economy; and (4) vulnerable populations—the poor, minorities, and the world’s children. On the basis of this examination, the Commission offers science-based recommendations designed to support development of a Global Plastics Treaty, protect human health, and save lives. Top experts weigh in on the plastic crisis and solutions.

The Changing Markets Foundation has published 6 reports that together reveal the interconnections between fast-fashion, fossil fuels, plastics, injustice, and pollution. The reports include:

  • Synthetics Anonymous 2.0: Fashion’s persistent plastic problem (December 2022)
  • Dressed to Kill: Fashion brands’ hidden links to Russian oil in a time of war (November 2022)
  • Licence to Greenwash: How certification schemes and voluntary initiatives are fuelling fossil fashion (March 2022)
  • A New Look for the Fashion Industry: EU Textile Strategy and the Crucial Role of Extended Producer Responsibility (March 2022)
  • Synthetics Anonymous: fashion brands’ addiction to fossil fuels (June 2021)
  • Fossil fashion: the hidden reliance of fast fashion on fossil fuels (February 2022)

“Advanced recycling” is not a solution to plastic pollution and isn’t measuring up to industry promises. And by definition, “advanced recycling” is not really recycling at all. Instead, it’s a strategy for fossil fuel and plastic industries to continue delaying real action on plastics. Loopholes, Injustice, & the “Advanced Recycling” Myth Report shows how plastics and fossil fuel industry lobbyists — primarily the American Chemistry Council — work to pressure state legislators to pass laws containing loopholes enabling “advanced recycling,” and perpetuating plastic pollution and injustice.

In “Circular Claims Fall Flat Again,” Greenpeace lays out five key reasons why plastic recycling has failed now and in the past, and shows how the world has reached a decision point on single-use plastics and packaging. The report demonstrates that attaining solutions-oriented alternatives, such as refill and reuse systems, is possible and serves communities and individuals much better than the status quo. Lastly, Greenpeace lists final recommendations for companies that seek to be a part of real solutions to plastic pollution.

Tearfund explores the crucial links between plastic pollution and global poverty, and the role the new Plastics Treaty can play in addressing both of these issues, in its report Plastic pollution and poverty: A briefing to inform negotiations on a UN treaty on plastics. The report is available in English (and soon, in Spanish, Portuguese, and French languages).

In the paper, Tearfund highlights the impacts of plastic pollution on people’s health, environment and livelihoods in low- and middle-income countries. It outlines the role of the informal waste sector and explores what a ‘just transition’ to a safe, inclusive circular economy would mean for them and for communities in LMICs who depend on plastic.

Tearfund demonstrates how the Global Plastics Treaty provides a key opportunity to make real progress in tackling poverty, both by lessening the impact of plastic pollution on people living in poverty through reducing use of plastics, and by seizing the opportunity to create improved livelihoods within a circular economy in plastics.