Sunday, April 27, 2008

Beet Pulp For Pet Food To Be Used For Bioplastics Instead

This Dog Says, "No Way."

Despite healthy suspicions that we in the developed world are robbing global food resources for the manufacture of "sustainable" bioplastics and biofuels, our research communities soldier on.

Chemists Victoria Finkenstadt and LinShu Liu of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service have been working since 2004 on a method for transforming beet pulp into what Science Daily describes as a "specialized filler material for polylactic-acid-based plastics [PLA]"—and they seem to have had a breakthrough.

Unfortunately, the beet pulp, which is traditionally only marketable as a component in livestock feed or pet food, would be going to make exactly the bioplastic that releases methane (a potent greenhouse gas) while rotting in landfills, according to this report in the London Guardian. The PLA-based plastic containers further don't appear to decompose quite the way people expect them to in that, to fully biodegrade (a primary benefit they have over traditional petrol plastics), they have to be composted in anaerobic digesters of which there are precious few (in Britain) and which traditionally don't accept plastic containers.

SO: Without a better alternative (going back to regular plastics isn't exactly productive), maybe just getting more municipal anaerobic digesters is the solution. (How expensive are they, anyway?) With the beat pulp filler lowering the cost of PLA-based bioplastics, maybe it's worth still considering these. I feel slightly inhuman asking this, but why are we blaming food shortages on biofuels and bioplastics, when climate change-induced drought and exponentially increasing population growth deserve their fair share of the blame? This goes out to our domesticated pet populations too: Don't hate the bioplastic, dog. Hate the game.

[Link to the Science Daily article; Proposal for the USDA's research project "Valuable Polysaccharide-Based Products from Sugar Beet Pulp and Citrus Peel"]

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