University of Pittsburgh students performed a study on 12 kinds of plastics to determine how green their life-cycle is. Biopolymers, plastics derived from natural elements, were the most biodegradable, with low toxicity, and used the most renewable resources. But, because of the natural components that make up Biopolymers, fertilizers and pesticides used in creating the material for the plastics those components pollute more then other plastics during their production.
Eric Beckman, Professor of Chemical Engineering, says that when designing Biopolymers engineers worked to make them as green as possible, but when it came to production they missed the mark. He also says that the most surprising aspect of the research was that Polypropylene, a fossil fuel based plastic, tested well, polluting less during manufacturing.
Beckman says the main improvement the chemical industry can make after the study is using less material during plastic production. "If you look at the guidelines we give to people to be more environmentally benign we always say 'reduce, reuse, and recycle'...And I think the key lesson for this study is that if your going to try to be greener in the future no matter what you make, is to just less stuff when you make it."
The bulk of the research was done by a group of undergraduate students at Pitt in the School of Engineering. More research is planned on the polymers by examining the plastics environmental impact during disposal.