Most of the plastics used in injection mold design and the products we use every day are manufactured from petroleum and other components of crude oil. After seeing the disaster in the Gulf following the explosion at a BP drilling site, there is plenty of public interest in reducing our dependency on the products that come from oil, such as gasoline. But with plastic being such an integral part of modern life, from the packaging that houses most everything we purchase to the computers that we perform our work on, how feasible is it that we will be able to use an alternative at some point in the future?

Actually, it’s very feasible. There are already plastic prototypes out there that are known as bioplastics. These plastics have been formed from materials from plants, which are a renewable resource as opposed to crude oil. These plastics are already being used to some extent by companies that are concerned with their impact on the environment.

However, we still have a long way to go before bioplastics become the norm. The lifespan of these materials is very short, which may work for disposable packaging but isn’t suitable for items such as sports display cases that the owner will want to keep for the long term; bioplastics still decompose fairly rapidly. Bioplastics also require that large swaths of farmland be set aside to grow the plants needed for production, taking up space that could be used to grow food and consuming valuable resources.