With plastic having such a negative impact on our environment, many people are switching over to biodegradable plastic, but how do you make it?
In recent years, we have been seeing a huge shift in our society towards adopting environmental values and sustainable ways of living, which is resulting in many people trying to mitigate or completely cut out their plastic use. However, there are ways that you can make biodegradable plastic right at home and it causes virtually no harm to the environment.
To make biodegradable plastic, you must combine starch, vinegar, glycerol, and distilled water into a pot or saucepan. You must then heat the mixture on your stove and bring it to a light boil while stirring. Finally, pour the mixture onto a sheet of aluminum foil for it to harden and solidify.
Throughout the 20th century, plastics started popping up all over the world. This highly practical and versatile material was suddenly being used across so many industries for food packaging, consumer products, electronics, and more. There is a reason that plastics gained so much popularity in recent decades, as they are incredibly cheap, easy to manufacture, and can be used in so many different creative ways. However, as years went on, we began to find out that our plastic consumption was starting to take a toll. Plastic waste started popping up all over the planet - affecting marine environments, ruining the aesthetic of landscapes/seascapes, and also damaging human health. We now live in a world where we can expect there to be more plastic in the ocean by the year 2050 than fish - if we continue to use this material in the same way that we are today. Plastics can often take hundreds of years to break down, which is why many people are beginning to realize that we need an alternative - with biodegradable plastics being the answer. Keep reading to learn more about how to make biodegradable plastic.
After extensively researching biodegradable plastics, I have been able to gather enough information to determine how to make this material from scratch. My research has taught me that bioplastics are incredibly easy to make but you need to make sure that you are using all of the right ingredients to get the best end product.
What is Biodegradable Plastic
When we think of plastic, the last word that we would associate with it is biodegradable. Most of the plastic that we use ends up in landfills where it will sit for centuries - with common items like plastic bottles taking upwards of 450 years to decompose. We have tried to mitigate the harmful effects of plastic waste by recycling but we are finding out that even this is not a viable solution to preventing the harm that this material causes to our environment.
With sustainable living and environmental values gaining mainstream momentum around the world, many people have been pushing to cut out plastics entirely. However, we are finding out that we can actually make this material biodegradable by changing how we approach it.
Standard plastics do not use natural materials and are made of cellulose, natural gas, and crude oil, which are unsustainable resources and are responsible for plastic pollution. Bio-based plastics, on the other hand, rely on natural materials, which means that they are going to decompose considerably faster than traditional plastics. We are finding that biodegradable plastic can break down in as little as 3 to 6 months, which is a whole lot better than 400 to 500 years.
Also, once biodegradable plastic does break down, it does not continue to harm the environment. The reason for this is that it goes through a more natural decomposition process where it legitimately biodegrades. Regular plastic tends to break off into small pieces called microplastics. These tiny plastic fragments are part of the decomposition process but they continue to take a huge toll on the environment. Microplastics that end up in the ocean are commonly consumed by marine animals by mistake, which results in sea birds, turtles, and fish thinking they are food. This amounts to roughly 100 million marine animals dying each year due to plastic.
Bio-based plastics are the solution to solving so many of our planet's issues with waste. Although we can adopt sustainable lifestyle choices that result in less plastic consumption in the developing world, many countries out there are dependent on traditional plastic and cannot afford to make such ethical adaptations. Developing biodegradable plastics and making them a standard around the globe is going to greatly help the health of our planet and reduce human waste.
Making Biodegradable Plastic
Most people are often shocked when they find out that they can make biodegradable or compostable plastic right at home. Plastic is a material that we tend to associate with industries and manufacturing but making it yourself is not all that hard. In fact, to make bio-plastic all you need are a handful of standard ingredients, which you probably already have laying around the house.
Although we do not recommend eating biodegradable plastic, most of the ingredients that you will need to use are technically edible. The process of making biodegradable plastic is almost like making a cake. You are going to need to create a batter-like material, which needs to then be heated on a stove.
A lot of sustainable industries and organizations are using this method on a large scale to manufacture eco-friendly, biodegradable plastic products for consumers to buy. However, there are a lot of people that like to make biodegradable plastics at home - either as a hobby, a craft or simply for fun.
You can make a lot of different things with biodegradable plastics and you can do so without causing harm to the environment. To help you understand this further, we are going to take you through the entire process of how to make biodegradable plastic.
Gathering Ingredients & Equipment
Before you can start making your homemade bioplastic, you need to make sure that you have everything that you need to start the process. Although making biodegradable plastic is a lot like baking a cake, you will need some different ingredients for this recipe.
You may have most of these items laying around the house but if you don’t, add them to your shopping list, as you should be able to buy just about everything that you need at the supermarket.
There are actually a few different ways that you can make biodegradable plastic. The process is quite similar across the board but the ingredients that you use to make the material can vary depending on what your preferences are - or what you have available to you.
You should be able to find all of these items at just about any grocery store but you may need to stop by a pharmacy in case your local supermarket does not have everything. Let’s take a look at the different ingredients that you can use to make biodegradable plastic.
The most common way that most people prefer to make their bioplastic at home is to use the starch method. The reason for this is that starch is very cheap and there is also more than one type of starch that you can use, which makes it a very dynamic ingredient.
These are the ingredients that you need to make biodegradable plastic using the starch method:
- 10ml distilled water
- 1.5 grams starch (corn, potato, or tapioca)
- 0.5 to 1.5 grams glycerol
- 1ml white vinegar
If the starch method did not appeal to you or if you simply have some extra gelatin laying around the house that you wanted to get rid of, you can always use this method instead, as it is just as effective.
These are the ingredients that you need to make biodegradable plastic using the gelatin method:
- 48 grams of gelatin
- 12 grams of glycerol
- 240 ml distilled water
If you go out shopping for gelatin, any standard supermarket brand will do just fine for the procedure.
Once you have gathered your supplies and have got your shopping out of the way, you will also need to have access to a kitchen that has standard appliances and equipment. Here’s what you will need:
- Saucepan or cooking pot
- Silicone Spatula
- Aluminum foil
- Needle or toothpick
With all of your supplies and equipment ready to go, you can begin the process of making your biodegradable plastic.
Mixing the Ingredients
To begin the process, decide on whether you want to use a saucepan or a cooking pot to mix your ingredients in.
You can then begin adding your ingredients one by one so that they can all mix together. The order in which you do this does not matter - just make sure that you have all of the right proportions for your ingredients.
You can then take your spatula and start mixing all of the ingredients into one substance. At this stage, everything that you mix together, should have a very liquid consistency and have a faded white color to it. You must measure out all of your ingredients accurately. A failure to do this can result in your biodegradable plastic coming out wrong, which means that you will have to repeat all of the steps from the beginning.
Heating the Mixture
Once you have got everything mixed evenly, you can begin to ‘cook’ your biodegradable plastic. Turn on your stove to a temperature that is medium to high to start the process.
Place your saucepan or cooking pot onto the stovetop and observe the mixture as it starts to heat up. The bioplastic mixture will start to simmer at a certain point, which generally takes around 5 min. Each stove is a little bit different which is why you may want to adjust your temperature settings as needed.
The ideal temperature range should let your mixture simmer and lightly bubble to the top. If you are finding that your bioplastic mix is bubbling and boiling a lot, you should turn down your heat immediately. Be careful with this part, as getting boiling hot bioplastic mix on you is not going to be fun.
As the mixture simmers on a light boil, you should be stirring everything in your saucepan or cooking pot to keep the viscosity level balanced. You will find that after roughly 10 minutes of stirring and observing your bioplastic mix that it starts to turn into a cake-like batter. Right around 10 to 15 minutes is when you want to start pulling the mixture off of the heat.
The ideal consistency should be thick but not so much that it is not fluid - it should not turn into a paste. Overdoing this can result in a poor mixture, which is why it is best to pull the bioplastic off early rather than late.
Pouring Mixture onto Aluminum Foil
Once you think you have found your ideal consistency, it is safe to say that your mixture is ready to go.
You want to be observing safety at all times while you handle your biodegradable plastic mixture. The substance is going to be very hot and it can cause serious burns to your skin while you are handling it. We would recommend wearing:
- Long sleeves
- Eye Protection (optional)
With your safety gear on, you then want to look at the surface of the mixture once you have taken it off of the heat. It is very common for it to have bubbles that start to come up to the top. This is something you want to watch out for, as they can easily pop and end up on your skin.
For this part, you are going to want to grab your needle, toothpick, or pointed item. With your item in hand, go through each bubble and give it a quick pop and make sure that you do not get any of the substance on your skin while doing so.
You can then lay out your sheet of aluminum foil onto a flat surface such as a countertop or table. Pour the mixture onto the aluminum foil gradually. If you are just making biodegradable plastic as a quick fun experiment then it does not really matter how you pour it. However, if you want it to be flatter you should pour it over a larger area - whereas if you want it to be thick you should keep it consolidated.
Letting it Dry
Your biodegradable plastic is just about ready. However, instead of throwing it into an oven like you would a cake, you want to store it in a cool and dry place so that it can solidify and take form.
If you want to create a basic shape based on how you poured it, you can accentuate some features by using your spatula to spread it around the aluminum foil before it starts the hardening process.
Once you are satisfied with the shape that you have created, you can pretty much just leave the bioplastic mixture to rest until it is finished. More often than not, the hardening process will take about 24 hours - especially if you have made a thin layer of bioplastic. However, if you happened to make a thick or large piece of bioplastic, it can take as much as 48 hours for the process to complete.
Once the time has passed, you can come to check up on your biodegradable plastic. If the material is still soft or mushy in any way, leave it alone and give it more time. If it has hardened, then your biodegradable plastic is done.
Adding Color to Biodegradable Plastic
A lot of people that make biodegradable plastic at home, like to get creative with the process and even give their material some artistic flare. If you feel like you want to do this, there is no better way than to add some color into the mix.
Adding color to your biodegradable plastic is very easy but you need to make sure that you are doing it at the right time. To start, you do not want to use any paints or anything like that - some simple food coloring will be just fine for bioplastic.
When cooking most recipes, you can generally add food coloring at any point. This is not the case with biodegradable plastic. Provided that you have all of the ingredients and equipment ready, you want to first start by mixing everything without the food coloring in yet.
Once you have begun heating it, you can then add the food coloring into the mixture. The ideal time to add it is right as you start to see the substance simmer a bit. Then continue mixing and preparing your biodegradable plastic based on the above-mentioned steps.
Making Molds & Shapes with Biodegradable Plastic
Let’s face it, if you have gone through the trouble of making the biodegradable plastic mixture, it is not always the most satisfying result to have plastic pancake be the outcome of all of your hard work.
Biodegradable plastic is a fantastic material that you can use to make all sorts of fun shapes and molds. If you are willing to get creative, you will find that there are a lot of different things that you can design with biodegradable plastics.
If you want to make molds or shapes with your mixture, you will need to do so during the pouring process. Instead of pouring the bioplastic mix onto aluminum foil, you instead want to take the substance and pour it into something that will let it take shape.
Before you do so, we would recommend that you take a non-stick spray, which you can coat the item with. Once you pour the bioplastic batter inside, you want to give it a reasonable amount of time to solidify.
Take a pointed object and pop any bubbles that you see - while keeping safety in mind. Also, given that you have so much flexibility with what kind of shapes you can make, it would be wise to be more flexible with how much time the biodegradable plastic takes to harden. Many people like to make fun and intricate shapes that can be quite thick, which results in a prolonged hardening process. Here are some examples of things that you can use to make molds and shapes:
- Baking trays
If you want to get more creative with your molds and shapes, you can always makeshift some yourself using household items such as ceramics.
About THE AUTHOR
James Parker has a Masters degree in Sustainability with a focus on land management, permaculture and regenerative agriculture. He also has experience managing sustainability projects, and is passionate about conservation and sustainability.Read More About James Parker