Amidst the global plastic pollution crisis, bio-based polymers have been proposed as a potential substitute to tackle this issue. Owed to their biodegradability, biopolymers are generally regarded as eco-friendly during the post-consumer (disposal) stage. However, the environmental burden of the many production processes biopolymers and their components undergo better reflect the sustainable nature of these materials. Previous studies evaluating the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of starch-based composites have focused on commercially available starches, although other non-conventional starches can also be used to produce biopolymers. To address this knowledge gap, in the present study we evaluated the LCA of starch-Brazil nut fiber biocomposites prepared with starch from three different sources, Andean potato, corn, and sweet potato, and applying two different plasticizers, glycerol and sorbitol. Results indicated that the starch-based biocomposites were less impacting than conventional PLA-Brazil nut fiber and PP-glass fiber composites. The type of starch and plasticizer significantly influenced the environmental load of the production of the composites. The main drivers of these differences were the multiple agricultural practices, such as irrigation and fertilization, and the crop efficiency for starch extraction. Sorbitol was found to be many times more impacting than glycerol in most categories, which is due to the complex processing of sorbitol and high content in biocomposites with similar mechanical properties than glycerol. Additionally, Brazil nut fibers are presented as an eco-friendly and low-burden natural filler due to their easy processing and agricultural waste origin. The limitations, applications, and significance of the results were discussed.
- Sweet potato