Less than 200 years ago, our economy was a carbohydrate economy. In 1820, Americans used two tons of plant material for every ton of minerals. Plants were the primary raw material in the production of dyes, chemicals, paints, inks, solvents, construction materials, even energy. Cotton and wood pulp provided the world’s first plastics and synthetic textiles. In the mid-19th century, two New Jersey printers produced collodion, a cotton-derived cellulose nitrate (aka gun cotton), that was as strong as ivory. Collodion was used for dentures and buttons. Celluloid was also a cotton derivative that was used in consumer photography. At the end of the 19th century, one of the largest chemical manufacturers, Celanese Corporation, produced cellulose acetate apparel. I the 1930s came the first injection moding machines for making plastics from cellulose acetate. After celluloid, cellophane, the world’s first film plastic, was introduced. In 1941, Henry Ford made his biological car – a car whose body was made of various plant fibers; dashboard, wheel, and seat covers from soy protein; and tank filled with corn-derived ethanol. By late 1940s, crude oil dropped so low in price that bioplastics virtually disappeared.
Now, due to economic forces as well as political factors and technological advances, the pendulum swing back to bioplastics.