As the global oil supply dwindles over the coming decades, plastics manufacturers will turn to natural gas, biomass and recycling as the feedstock of the future.
Today, just about every plastic product, from Tupperware bowls to polyethylene carpet, is derived from petroleum, a non-renewable fossil fuel that will eventually dry up.
The plastics industry has already shifted to natural gas, a more abundant fossil fuel, for most polyethylene production.
Biomass holds real promise as a renewable source of plastics. Crops like corn, sugarcane, beets and potatoes contain dextrose, which can be fermented to produce lactic acid. Lactic acid can then be converted into lactide, a molecule that easily forms long chains similar to petroleum-based polymers.
The resulting polylactic acid is now the world’s most popular bio-plastic, used widely in food packaging. Experts also predict that we will eventually resort to mining old landfills in the search for recyclable plastics.