Biodegradable plastic is a hot topic as we are becoming increasingly eco
One might think that the concept of biodegradable is new, but in reality the first biodegradable plastic was discovered in the 1920s! Maurice Lemoigne, a French researcher made this incredible discovery but it was unnoticed for decades.
Biodegradable plastic is a type of plastic that biodegrades within the environment thanks to the action of living organisms, usually bacteria.
Let’s discover what biodegradable plastic is and if it is really better than conventional plastic.
What is really biodegradable plastic?
Biodegradable polymers (BDPs) or biodegradable plastics refer to polymeric materials that are ‘capable of undergoing decomposition into carbon dioxide, methane, water, inorganic compounds, or biomass in which the predominant mechanism is the enzymatic action of microorganisms
It is difficult to pin down the common characteristics of biodegradable plastic as there are different ways and materials to produce it, in fact, some are greener than others. It is considered biodegradable that plastic able to biodegrade in soil, water, carbon dioxide or methane gas within three years.
We need also to stress the difference between bioplastic and biodegradable plastic. The main difference relies on their origins, these can be bio-based or petrochemical-based. Bioplastic is more eco-friendly as it has natural origins, such as cellulose, starch… Petrochemical-based biodegradable plastic belongs to a non-renewable source, specifically they are produced by synthesis from monomers derived from petrochemical refining.
In spite of this, both materials are considered green, even because very often they are used in conjunction, so you find products that contain both bioplastic and biodegradable plastic. This makes the products more efficient and keep the cost down.
Biodegradable vs plastic
There is not a definite answer to whether biodegradable plastic is better than normal plastic, but this seems to be the most shared view. Let’s compare the two.
- Petrol: the cost of petrol is expensive not only for the environment, but also in terms of money. Countries should try to reduce its use to avoid do be dependant on its price fluctuations and reduce pollution and waste.
- Carbon emissions: when conventional plastic is disposed of, it releases carbon, because this material is used in the production process, whilst biodegradable is carbon-free. Even when plastic is recycled many pollutant materials are released into the environment.
- Recycling: the idea of recycling standard plastic may seem to solve partially the problem of plastic. BUT only 8% of the plastic is actually recycled! Biodegradable is certainly a material that can be recycled entirely if you know how.
- Time: biodegradable plastic takes only from a few months up to three years to biodegrade in the environment, whilst plastic can take from 50 up to 5000 years!
Discover the life cycle of this two materials in this interesting infographic.
Concerns over biodegradable
Of course, also biodegradable plastic has its cons.
This material must be disposed of properly in order for it to break down naturally. It cannot be mixed with other materials, for example.
So the problem is not the biodegradable plastic per se, but HOW it is recycled, we must adapt our system to biodegradable plastic and share good practices at a global level.
Apparently some biodegradable plastic contains metals, some are concerned that these will affect the quality of the soil. Again some biodegradable plastic MAY contain some toxic residues that become harmful if dispersed in the environment.
The quality and the degree of green properties of biodegradable plastic depends largely on HOW it is produced as well.
What is the solution?
Environmentalists claim that we should give up any plastic and opt for reusable products instead. This would be certainly everyone’s dream, but perhaps this is not always a solution and some cultures are far from being environmentally conscious.
Our suggestion is to prefer biodegradable plastic items as they degrade quickly and are greener as we saw.
Are you looking for greener disposable cutlery?
We offer both reusable disposable cutlery and biodegradable disposable cutlery. Visit our product page to find out more.