Biodegradable plastics are the new all-natural and organic, or so we're told. But they aren't as sustainable or eco-friendly as they seem. Biodegradable plastics are made from fossil fuels, which means this is a non-renewable resource that takes years to break down if at all. They can't be recycled either, so why would you choose them over regular plastic?
Biodegradable plastics are not recyclable. The reason for this is simple: biodegradable plastics do not break down in the recycling process.
The problem with non-biodegradable plastic, such as PET (polyethylene terephthalate), is that it doesn't break down in nature. This means that when you throw it away and it gets thrown into a landfill or discarded into oceans or rivers, it will never degrade--it will just sit there forever until someone digs it up from their backyard 40 years from now to make some new toys for their grandkids' kids (or maybe even great-grandkids).
But what about biodegradable plastics? Surely they'll decompose eventually, right? Well...no! Biodegradable materials may seem like an easy solution for reducing pollution caused by our use of disposable items such as bags and bottles; however, these products actually pose more problems than they solve because they don't break down properly when disposed of through traditional methods such as landfilling or incineration (burning).
Biodegradable plastics are still plastic, and they're made from non-renewable fossil fuels. Plastic is plastic no matter how it breaks down--it still takes years to break down if at all, and there's no guarantee that it will ever fully biodegrade.
Biodegradable plastics are made from non-renewable fossil fuels and take years to break down. Even if they're not breaking down in landfills, they might end up polluting our food system.
Plastic bags and other plastic items that you put in your recycling bin are collected by the city trash collectors and taken to a recycling center where they are sorted out by type of material (paper, glass, plastic). If your city doesn't have its own recycling program you can usually drop off recyclables at stores like Target or Whole Foods where there will be a bin for plastics only. The plastic is then shipped off to companies that make new products out of them (like bottles). Biodegradable plastics won't be accepted at these centers because they are considered hazardous waste--the same category as pesticides! So if biodegradable materials end up in landfills or oceans it could be even worse than regular plastic pollution because those places don't have any controls on what goes into them besides size limits on what you can throw away there (and even those vary depending on region).
Biodegradable plastics are made from non-renewable fossil fuels and they can take years to break down.
In addition, biodegradable plastics can't be recycled because they're so similar to regular plastic in their composition. So if you think that buying a biodegradable bag or water bottle is better for the environment, think again!
Biodegradable plastics are made from non-renewable fossil fuels and take years to break down, if at all. That's because they're only partially compostable: The material will degrade in a landfill over time, but it still won't biodegrade in the environment.
Biodegradable plastics are often touted as an alternative to conventional plastic packaging because they're supposed to break down faster than regular plastic--but those claims don't hold up against the facts. Biodegradability is a complicated process that varies depending on many factors, including temperature and exposure time; most bioplastics take months or even years to fully decompose under optimal conditions (and of course you can't control these conditions).
Biodegradable plastics are not the silver bullet to solve our plastic problem. They're not being produced at scale, and they won't solve the problem of plastic pollution on their own.
Biodegradable plastics aren't a panacea for everyone involved in manufacturing, distributing, and disposing of products made out of them--not even close. They require different production processes than traditional plastics do; they're more expensive; they have less flexibility when it comes to design; and they don't last as long (weeks instead of decades).
Biodegradability is a measure of how quickly something breaks down, but it's not the same as bioremediation. Biodegradability refers to the rate at which a material can be broken down by microorganisms (bacteria, fungi and algae). Bioremediation, on the other hand, is when microbes break down pollutants in soil or water.
The concept of biodegradable plastics has been around since the 1960s--but it wasn't until recently that scientists began working on commercializing these materials for use as packaging materials. Biodegradable plastics need certain conditions in order to decompose properly: light exposure; oxygen availability; nutrient availability; pH levels between 4-8 depending on what type of plastic you're using (there are lots!). If any one of these factors isn't met then your product won't break down as quickly as advertised!
Biodegradable plastics could still pollute the environment.
Biodegradable plastics are still plastic, and they can be hard to recycle. It's also not always clear how long it takes for biodegradable or compostable packaging to break down in a landfill. Even if they do break down quickly enough to prevent harm to wildlife (and humans), biodegradables won't solve one of plastic's biggest problems: littering.
Biodegradable plastics are not being produced at scale.
Biodegradable plastics are not being used in the same way as non-biodegradable plastics (in the same products).
Even though a product is biodegradable doesn't mean it isn't causing harm to our environment. Biodegradable plastics are still plastic and therefore non-biodegradable, so they contribute to microplastic pollution in the ocean. Even if you choose to use biodegradable bags or straws over their non-biodegradable counterparts, you're still adding more plastic into the environment (even if only temporarily). Biodegradable materials also require large amounts of energy during production and often contain other harmful chemicals that can pollute soil and water when they break down--meaning that even if you do manage to escape some of these issues by using plastic alternatives like paper bags or bamboo utensils at home, there will still be other ways your actions contribute negatively toward climate change!
If you want to be part of the solution to plastic pollution, try using less single-use plastics and recycling what you can. You might also try using a reusable water bottle or coffee mug instead of buying disposable ones every day--and if you do buy something new, make sure it's not made from plastic!