The first rule of sustainability is to align with natural forces, or at least not try to defy them.Paul Hawken
Biodegradable plastics are gaining popularity as consumers demand alternative green materials. However, biodegradable plastic will deteriorate over time instead of remaining stable for hundreds of years the way we once prized plastic. These plastics have the advantage of not relying on fossil fuels as their source of raw materials.
The ability of biodegradable plastic to naturally degrade within an organic timeframe makes it unique compared to other plastics, which may take hundreds or thousands of years to break down. There are several recognised types of biodegradable plastics, including Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), Polylactic acid (PLAs), plant starch blends (like corn starch), and cellulose-based plastics.
Difference between biodegradable plastic and compostable plastic
Biodegradable plastic: This involves the breakdown of plastics naturally by microorganisms, bacteria, and fungi, regardless of the original material from which it derives. Plastic can be biodegradable without being bioplastic.
Compostable plastic: These plastics require specialised conditions to degrade instead of the more specific requirements needed by biodegradable plastics. While biodegradable plastics can spoil in a natural setting, compostable plastics usually require the use of commercial composting facilities.
The Bioplastic Process
The production of bioplastics relies upon renewable biomass such as vegetable fats, vegetable oils, corn starch, straw, woodchips, sawdust, and recycled food waste.
Microbes break down biodegradable disposable plastics, chewing them up and turning them into biomass, water and carbon dioxide (or, in the absence of oxygen, methane instead of CO2). However, these biodegradable disposable plastics have a high chance of being compostable when combined with food and other organic waste. It forms a compost.
Are bioplastics viable long-term solutions for the environment?
Plastics made from renewable sources improve over petroleum-based plastics, but some drawbacks.
Bioplastic production raises a moral issue, as the world’s increasing population raises the question of whether it’s ethical to deprive the people of food, e.g. using an entire crop of corn to produce bioplastics.
There is a significant disadvantage in the public sphere: it heavily relies on transgenic crops, the rise in monoculture, and the lack of long-term testing.
Cons of bioplastic
It promotes a single-use mentality: Biodegradable plastic encourages excessive waste created as a sustainable approach, reinforcing the idea of single-use plastics. Unfortunately, this approach can have negative consequences. Customers may view biodegradable plastics as the most fantastic answer to environmental challenges, ignoring more environmentally friendly measures such as waste reduction and recycling.
It might not degrade: While scientists have yet to evaluate the impacts of biodegradable plastic, data suggests that some forms do not lessen. Because the tiny fragments (called microplastics) become harder to clean up or detect, biodegradable plastics that only partially degrade can be significantly more hazardous to the environment than if they remained intact.
Not readily biodegradable. Bioplastics may require a unique facility to break them down, including separate garbage. Unfortunately, most municipalities don’t have bio-based plastic recycling facilities, yet improper disposal can cause another environmental problem.
Can bioplastics be recycled?
Due to the difficulty in separating all the components of bio-based plastics, most recycling facilities do not accept these products. Bioplastics have a high chance of contaminating other recyclable items and ruining a whole batch of garbage.
An outstanding greenalternative is a reuseable plastic solution
Switching to a reusable cup will save you 80–120 kg of CO2 per year if you drink one takeaway coffee weekly. This range is the same as driving a car for 650–1,000 kilometres.
A reusable cup used more than 15 times is more sustainable than a disposable one, and you won’t be adding to the pile of 500 billion disposable cups that end up in landfills globally every year.
By using Planit cups, we can reduce our carbon footprint and help push the agenda of sustainability with an average of 300 washes. We are passionate about improving the quality of life, protecting our environment and preserving natural resources for future generations to come.