Biodegradable plastics are everywhere. But we should beware of the pitfalls of using them.
As we try to shop consciously to pursue sustainable living, we find ourselves bombarded with green messaging. As a result, we encounter many different eco-friendly items to add to our daily routine. But do we stop to think whether these things are good for the environment and not just for profit?
One seemingly sustainable word we hear often is biodegradable. But before you get all the things labeled biodegradable, you should first examine all the stuff about biodegradable, especially as one of the most popular green commodities is biodegradable plastic. We know that plastics are inherently bad for the environment, confusing how certain plastics can be biodegradable.
Let’s dig deeper into this dillema.
The Dilemma of Misconceptions
Did you ever have an experience where you fought for something you thought was right? Such as arguing that 1 + 1 is equivalent to two, but others would say it is not. Or it could be, arguing that pineapple can go with pizza, but others would say and say it tastes terrible? Or simply arguing that Isla Fisher played as Giselle in the Disney movie Enchanted, everyone is claiming that it was Amy Adams!
Such misconceptions are typical and a natural situation to be in. Unfortunately, it happens all the time. However, it does not automatically signify that you already won the lottery and others lost, for there could be instances that BOTH of you are not correct!
It always has something to do with humans being too stubborn. They believe what they wish to believe and refuse to take in other people’s opinions regarding a situation.
With that said, let me relate the above-mentioned to anything related to the protection and preservation of the environment, which would often sound right. But, unfortunately, humans tend not to acknowledge intensive explanations regarding a particular subject, believing that there is no need.
Why? Because we are used to the fact that it already means that it is good for the environment when you say biodegradable, given its definition. Or when you see non-plastic packaging, we automatically assume that it is good for the environment.
Here is the thing, we are too reliant on environmental groups and ‘ecofriendly’ products that we forget to do our research and make an effort to get to know what can and cannot help our environment. People are too complacent with the idea that someone is doing the works for them, like a toddler depending on their mother’s care.
However, the only difference that we, adults, have with toddlers is that we need to be more practical and wiser, given that we are older and have limbs to perform such actions. But, despite our contribution to destroying the environment, we always blame other people for it.
As alarming as it is, humans mostly rinse their hands once a particular situation would heighten and put themselves at risk despite their great contribution to such predicament.
Take, for instance, the current problem that the world is facing – COVID19 Pandemic. Some, or even many, are continuously complaining about every protocol released by the government, which is needed to decrease the heightening cases of COVID19 positive patients. However, they forget to assess that one of the main reasons for the sudden spike was their constant violations, such as not wearing face masks and face shields. Yet, they still dare to complain.
The situation above is just similar to the constant threat of climate change. If only people care enough to research and understand the stuff they are using and refuse harmful items. But no, they would rather complain and expect other groups to do the task for them – which by the way, is everyone’s job.
Hence, I would like to correlate these to my main idea with all the mention of words about dependence and lack of research. In the past years, the world has been producing tons of plastics since the 1950s. According to Renee Cho of the Columbia Climate School, over 165 million of these are thrown into the oceans, and almost 9 million more are entering the oceans yearly. Given that only 9% get recycled, the rest are thrown elsewhere or dumped on dumpsites.
What is biodegradable?
According to You Matter World, the term biodegradable refers to the ability of decomposing naturally that is not, in any way, harmful to the environment. It can disintegrate through the actions of microorganisms like bacteria and fungi. Alright! It sounds incredible, and perhaps you are all so thrilled to hear about it, especially highlighting that it is NOT harmful to the environment.
Here are some examples of waste that fall under the biodegradable radar.
- Human and animal excreta (urine and poo)
- Plant products (e.g., rubber, paper, wood, leaves, cotton, and wool)
- Remains of living organisms (including dead bodies)
- Kitchen waste
- Agricultural waste
What is non-biodegradable?
Now that we’ve discussed the materials that would decompose naturally, let’s discuss the opposite of those materials. Non-biodegradable materials cannot be broken down by natural substances or organisms – in which it is the primary source for pollution.
Below are examples of non-biodegradable materials.
- Metals (e.g., aluminum, copper, zinc, iron, electronic devices, computer parts, batteries)
- Medical waste
- Plastic bags
- Plastic bottles
- Tetra packs
- Carbon paper
- Thermo coal
Now, we all know that non-biodegradable wastes cannot dissolve in a matter of seconds. Contrarily, it takes years to decompose or, if given a chance to get exposed to radiation, then be lucky to decompose quickly, but too bad for our health given the chemicals scaffolding it, eventually blending in with nature which brings greater damage to the environment. Furthermore, it has been the primary cause of pollution.
Hence, many inventors opted to produce biodegradable materials as a solution, but apparently, it will not compromise human needs. Once again, sounds alright and fantastic! I mean, we get to finally purchase goods from the supermarket without meticulously checking on the packaging and its effects on the environment, right? Thus, we can finally say that we are contributing to the protection of the environment.
What are biodegradable plastics or bioplastics?
Did you know that biodegradable plastics were one of the major productions and were said not to bring harm to the environment? It has been touted to be ecofriendly and contributes a lot to the protection of the environment. However, does it live up to how they claim it to be? Hold your horses because we will have to find out first its definition before proceeding to our main point.
Biodegradable plastics or bioplastics are made from renewable resources. It is made wholly or apart from renewable biomasses (i.e., sugarcane and corn). It is said to be sustainable, and it has become a necessity in many industrial factories, such as in food packaging and composting bags. Less use of non-decomposable plastics would eventually waltz its way towards the oceans or elsewhere.
Actively Sustainable states that bioplastics are alternatives to traditional plastic. More so, they are mainly degradable, equally resistant, and versatile. People worldwide already use them in agriculture, the textile industry, medicine, and product packaging.
Advantages of Bioplastics:
- Reduces carbon footprint
- It does not contain additives or unwanted chemicals
- It does not change the flavor of the product inside
- Reduces non-biodegradable wastes
- Made of raw plants
Dark truths about bioplastics
Avantikaa Shukla of The Times of India reported that “Bioplastics could certainly be worse for the environment than normal or conventional plastics. Compostable or biodegradable plastics are never going to solve the plastic problem.
It does no good for the environment despite being ‘biodegradable.’ But why is this so? Accordingly, these bioplastics are expected to degrade within six months. However, even if some bioplastics are labeled degradable, some do not break down under normal conditions.
Decomposes like normal plastics
Polylactic Acid, the primary material behind bioplastic, is made up of fermented starch extracted from sugarcane and corns. It is also from algae. This means it can decompose on its own with the microorganisms containing it.
However, contrary to their claims that it will decompose within the timeframe they had given, that is no the actual case. It will only decompose with the right conditions of garden compost. But if it does not get the correct states of standard decomposition, it will only decompose like regular plastics. Moreover, given that it has acid in it, its decomposition will still be harmful to the environment as it will raise acidity to its surroundings.
Threat to the marine life
At the same time, if biodegradable plastic ends up in the oceans, it will only behave like conventional plastics. It doesn’t degrade, and over time, will also be a threat to marine life. Hence, bioplastics cannot save us. Furthermore, it does not decrease threats towards the destruction of the environment, so it is still better to recycle and completely eradicate plastic packaging.
Labelling vague instructions
Also, the labels attached to these bioplastics are often vague. They provide unclear instructions regarding the decomposition process and also as to where to throw these bioplastics. Without clarification, people would most likely throw this anywhere, so littering issues persist.
According to Eco Lunch Box, one requirement to say that an object is biodegradable if its decomposition is visible in the eyes. Biodegradable materials can degrade at either temperature. The problem with bioplastics is that it relies on heat and grinding to decompose. Hence, it is just similar to conventional plastics. With that said, the question lies if these bioplastics will decompose naturally when washed over the oceans or lands? Will they break down or not? – probably not.
Disadvantages of bioplastics:
- Bioplastics won’t biodegrade on landfills.
- No assurance if what builds it does not contain acids, because some do.
- Threat to the marine life
As we have observed, given that biodegradable plastic still works like regular plastics, it is still much better to reduce the use of plastics. Buy fewer products with too much packaging. In the beginning, it may seem believable, but upon breaking down its pros and cons, we can see how refusing and reducing are still better for the planet.
Now, if you have not stumbled upon this article, you might have been one of those who constantly praises bioplastics and urges others to. I do not mean ill towards others who encourage me to go for bioplastics because it could be that similar to others. They all thought that it could contribute to the decrease of the use of single used plastics on our planet.
With that said, let us serve this as a lesson to always research first before idolizing stuff. This is the safest way to make sure that we’re really contributing in a good way and not just for the sake of helping without even knowing what works best and what does not.
I highly encourage you to check out our other articles for more tips on sustainable living, exposes on the dark truths behind commodities and common activities of human life, analyses on environmental crises, and all things that can guide you to go zero waste.