Electric cars and bacterial plastics

We need to get better at using organisms. Organisms are alive so they can breed. That is, they’re renewable. Some of them can be used in ways that, people claim, are sustainable. That is, using some organisms is supposed to be possible without lasting harm.

I wrote yesterday about biobased industries. Some biobased industries might be sustainable. Also there are other renewable sources of the things we want – sun, wind, tides, waste of all kinds, the list goes on. Some industries based on those might be sustainable.

How about electric cars? That idea can be seductive because many people love cars. Many people wouldn’t want to give up cars. If you plug your electric car into a power source fuelled by something renewable, does that mean your electric car is a sustainable way to move around? Well, maybe not.

My fellow blogger Eric Britton at World Streets debunks the electric-car myth. ‘Upon closer consideration, moving from petroleum-fueled vehicles to electric cars begins to look more and more like shifting from one brand of cigarettes to another. We wouldn’t expect doctors to endorse such a thing.’ Eric’s article is well worth a read. I particularly like the way he points out that, for many of us much of the time, travel by car isn’t necessary. I don’t claim to be any kind of pure, but I walked and cycled a lot when my body was still able. Shanks’ Pony was my pony.

Meanwhile, we’d be lost without plastics but most of the plastics we rely on are made from fossil resources. There are ‘biodegradable’ plastics which are supposed to rot. But I noticed when I put them in my compost bin that they tended to stay pretty much intact. You could scrape away the rich, dark, finished compost to read the ‘Biodegradable!’ logo still on the plastic bag. After I dug them into my allotment’s soil, they did eventually rot away. But even then, was I just digging in a highly processed kind of fossil? How sustainable was that?

Fred Pearce at the Guardian tells us that biodegradable plastics are ‘greenwash’. That means, they may look eco-friendly but like the electric car, they may be no such thing.

But here’s a biobased industry worth watching. Bacterial plastics. Another blogger, Matt Russell at Small Organisms Big Benefits, tells us how the tiny creatures have potential for making plastics. This is renewable. Depending on how the bacteria were cultured, perhaps this could be sustainable too.

Bacterial plastic isn’t yet a developed technology. But with investment coming to BRIDGE, I wonder what we’ll see.

About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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