All about Biodegradable Plastics

28.04.2016

Biodegradable plastics, or bio plastics are environmentally friendly plastics that are produced using renewable materials and resources, i.e. agricultural by products, such as vegetable oils and fats, and cornstarch rather than petroleum.

These plastics are still in development and whilst the current products have plenty of room for improvement, they already offer us significant environmental benefits when compared to petroleum-based plastics because they only take as little as 4 to 6 months to decompose.

Once these materials have been refined further and we reach a stage where they are commercially viable on a large scale, the result will be a drastic reduction in oil consumption, which will ultimately mean cleaner communities. 

Traditional Plastics Are Choking Our Landfills

Plastic has gained a bad rap for itself in recent years, thanks to our throwaway society contributing to a continual stream of plastic waste; choking our landfills and polluting our waterways. Traditional plastics take a considerable number of years to break down and decompose, for example:

  • Plastic shopping bags – may take anything from 200 to 1000 years to decompose in landfill. In fact, even the photodegradable bags will take hundreds of years to break down if they are buried.
  • Cigarette butts – as surprising as it may seem, these absorbent looking items contain a plastic called cellulose acetate, which slows decomposition, meaning a cigarette butt may take up to 5 years to decompose.
  • Styrofoam cups – the jury is out on this one, as whilst some scientists believe that this material would eventually break down after about a million years, others believe that it is unlikely to ever decompose!
  • Plastic bottles – the majority of the plastic bottles we use for our mineral water and other beverages are made from a plastic called PET, (polyethylene terephthalate). This petroleum based plastic takes in the region of 450 years to break down in a landfill environment.

A Cleaner Outcome

Petroleum based plastics do not decompose in an environmentally friendly manner. For one, they take an alarmingly long time to break down at all and the other issue is that when they do eventually begin to decompose and degrade, they may release toxic chemicals, which can infiltrate water supplies and cause harm to the environment.

The hope is that the continued development of biodegradable plastics will give us the benefit of the use of a useful, versatile and cost effective material that enhances our daily lives, with a far cleaner outcome. Bio plastic items will integrate back into our environments more cleanly, once items have reached the end of their useful lifespan.

The Future Of Biodegradable Plastics

The process of manufacturing this type of plastic is far more expensive than the traditional methods and at the time of writing, they are still not 100% eco friendly. However with huge corporations like Coca Cola getting in on the action and developing their own bio plastic bottles for their beverages the hope is that we will see much more of this material in the future and that it will enable businesses of all sizes to improve and develop their sustainability practices over the coming years.  

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