Plastic pollution is a major environmental challenge, with millions of tons of plastic waste entering the oceans each year. This detrimental effects of waste on marine life and ecosystems, coupled with its contribution to climate change, highlight the need for change.
To tackle this pressing concern, it has become increasingly crucial to seek sustainable alternatives to plastic. One promising avenue lies in the realm of biomaterial innovations, which are playing a pivotal role in addressing the challenge of plastic pollution. Biomaterials are materials derived from renewable resources and have properties such as biodegradability, composability or biocompatibility. These resources can be obtained from biological sources like plants, animals, or microorganisms or non-renewable sources such as fossil derived molecules1. These materials offer immense potential in creating a diverse array of products, ranging from packaging and clothing to medical devices. By exploring biomaterials as substitutes for conventional plastics, we can significantly reduce the detrimental impact on the environment.
Emerging Trends and Innovations
Biomaterials, derived from renewable resources, are revolutionizing various industries with their versatility and ecological benefits. In the automotive sector, biomaterials are being used to replace plastics in car parts, trim, and panels. Ford’s implementation of 20% soy-based foam in car seats and headrests resulted in a significant reduction of 200 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per car in 201810.
The food packaging, construction and textile industries are embracing biomaterials for sustainable packaging, environmentally friendly construction and eco-friendly clothing. As biomaterial technology advances, it is poised to replace plastics in a diverse range of applications, addressing the environmental challenges associated with conventional materials.
For example, different organizations in Pakistan have begun to emphasize on sustainable packaging. Sapphire, a clothing brand of Pakistan uses seed-infused shopping bags and Roshan Packaging Limited uses recycled waste from their own organization to produce packaging4. As a result, it helps to minimize the amount of Municipal Solid Waste released by the country every day.
ARRIS Composites, an advanced material manufacturer in USA3, has recently unveiled structural flax fiber composites with high-performance capabilities. This development marks a significant step forward in the utilization of natural-fiber composites for structural applications. Flax, the primary material used in these composites, boasts an impressive carbon footprint, emitting less than 5% of the CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) compared to carbon fiber. This makes flax fiber a highly sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative.
Biomaterials has made its way into the fashion and textile industry to replace plastic use. A textile manufacturer from New York, Kintra6, has been utilizing sugar derived from corn and wheat to develop a biodegradable alternative to traditional polyester. Similarly, the Natural Fiber Welding Inc. has developed the Clarus technology7, which transforms natural fibers like cotton, hemp, and wool into high-performing textiles with properties comparable to synthetics. This minimizes the use of dependency of petroleum and increases the performance of the plant based fibers.
The above examples show that the adoption of biomaterials is rapidly expanding worldwide, and as the technology continues to mature, biomaterials are expected to replace plastics in an increasingly diverse range of applications. The growing recognition of their ecological benefits, improved performance, and decreasing costs positions biomaterials as a key solution in addressing the challenges posed by plastics.
Sri Lanka, with its rich biodiversity and commitment to environmental preservation, stands poised to leverage this cutting-edge technology.
Current Status of Biomaterials in Sri Lanka:
Sri Lanka, with its abundant natural resources, provides a solid foundation for the growth of biomaterials. The country boasts a diverse range of renewable resources, including agricultural waste, which positions it as a potential leader in the field of biomaterial development. The agriculture and packaging sectors can benefit greatly from the transformation of agricultural waste into biodegradable packaging materials. This approach not only reduces dependence on traditional plastics but also offers improved protection and longer shelf life for agricultural products8. This approach also aligns with the principles of the circular economy, enhancing the value of Sri Lanka’s agricultural sector in the global context.
The apparel industry has been one of the highest income generating sectors in Sri Lanka. With the abundant of knowledge and advanced manufacturing technology within the sector and natural resources12, Sri Lanka has the potential to develop biomaterials that can replace plastics. As a potential option plants, algae, agricultural waste that are massively released into the environment can be thus converted to leather, fabric or fibers that can be used to generate textiles, respectively Pinatex11, Bananatex5 or Afry2. Hence, this can create a sustainable and plastic free textile industry that can bring a sustainable and eco-friendly impact contributing more economic potential to the industry and the country.
Bamboo has been recognized for its exceptional mechanical properties that make it suitable for various structural applications in the construction industry. Additionally, bamboo has the remarkable ability to absorb significant amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere during its growth phase. This characteristic makes bamboo an environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to conventional construction materials by supporting efforts in reducing carbon emissions and promoting sustainable practices in the industry9. Sri Lanka can also utilize biomaterials such as engineered bamboo composites derived from the country’s rich biodiversity offers durable and environmentally-friendly alternatives for various applications, including flooring, roofing, and structural components.
Overall, embracing biomaterials across these industries in Sri Lanka will contribute to a more sustainable future.
However, to make this transition successful, collaboration among industry leaders, policymakers, researchers, and consumers is crucial. Industry leaders can drive innovation and commercialization, while policymakers can establish supportive regulations. Researchers play a vital role in advancing technologies for improved environmental performance. Lastly, informed consumer choices and demand for sustainable products will further drive the adoption of biomaterials in Sri Lanka.
In conclusion, the transition to more sustainable materials is a complex and challenging task, but it is essential if we are to reduce our impact on the environment. There are a number of factors that need to be considered, such as the availability of sustainable materials, the cost of production, and the performance of the materials. Despite the challenges, there is a growing momentum towards sustainability, and there are a number of promising developments in the field of sustainable materials. With continued effort, we can make the transition to a more sustainable future.
- Acierno D & Patti A. Biomaterials and the Textile Industry. Latest Trends in Textile and Fashion Designing. 2022; 4(3): 776-778. https://lupinepublishers.com/fashion-technology-textile-engineering/pdf/LTTFD.MS.ID.000188.pdf
- Afry. 2023. https://afry.com/en/projects
- Arris Composites. Arris Composites Inc. 2023. https://arriscomposites.com/about/
- Asim Z, Shamsi IRA, Wahaj M, Raza A, Abul Hasan S, Siddiqui SA, Aladresi A, Sorooshian S, Seng Teck T. Significance of Sustainable Packaging: A Case-Study from a Supply Chain Perspective. Applied System Innovation. 2022; 5(6):117. https://doi.org/10.3390/asi5060117
- Bananatex. QWSTION. 2023. https://www.bananatex.info/
- Bio-Based & Biodegradable Polyester. Kintra. 2023. https://www.kintrafibers.com/#uniting
- Clarus. Natural Fiber Weilding Inc. 2023. https://clarus.naturalfiberwelding.com/about
- Cristofoli NL, Lima AR, Tchonkouang RDN, Quintino AC, Vieira MC. Advances in the Food Packaging Production from Agri-Food Waste and By-Products: Market Trends for a Sustainable Development. Sustainability. 2023; 15(7):6153. https://doi.org/10.3390/su15076153
- Goonewardena J, Ashraf M, Reiner J, Kafle B, Subhani M. Constitutive Material Model for the Compressive Behaviour of Engineered Bamboo. Buildings. 2022; 12(9):1490. https://doi.org/10.3390/buildings12091490
- Mielewski. From seed to seat: how soy foam proved key to ford’s push to use renewables. Ford Media Center. 2018, https://media.ford.com/content/fordmedia/img/me/en/news/2018/01/9/from-seed-to-seat–how-soy-foam-proved-key-to-fords-push-to-use-.html
- Pinatex. Ananas Anam. 2023. https://www.ananas-anam.com/
- The Textile Manufacturing Industry in SriLanka. Export Development Board of SriLanka. 2023. https://www.srilankabusiness.com/apparel/textile-manufacturing-industry.html