The use of petroleum plastics has massive impacts on the environment, filling landfills with this type of plastic that could take centuries to biodegrade (with some studies estimating 1,000 before fully eroding) causes not only a loss of precious land but also these plastics don't full degrade they break down into tiny particles that will forever contaminate our soils and water systems.
Petroleum plastics can also find there way into our oceans which not only effect sea life in way such as entanglement. This plastic also erodes and is ingested by sea creatures, which in turn may either be consumed by larger predators that we consume or consumed directly by humans. This leads to these micro plastics not only directly harming sea life but indirectly harming humans.
Biodegradable plastics are important because they have the ability to fully biodegrade under certain conditions leaving no contaminates behind. This provides a product that is far less damaging to the environment.
Why do we need biodegradable plastics?
Biodegradable plastics are manufactured plastics that are designed to biodegrade and be broken down by natural organisms. In most instances this will allow the plastics to degrade back to their natural elements in a reasonable amount of time. This reduces the harm we are doing to the planet and ourselves.
PLA based plastics have issues with biodegradation, for these plastics to break down it requires a perfectly controlled environment. The bacteria that aids in the decomposing of PLA plastics can only function in a controlled environment of around 60 degrees Celsius with zero oxygen, this then allows the plastic to break down in around 90 days. As neither a landfill or a home compost heap can provide these conditions most plastics will end up not decomposing for hundreds of years.
What are the advantages of using biodegradable plastics?
Biodegradable plastics have many advantages when compared to standard PLA type plastics. These advantages are mainly due to the creation or degradability of the materials.
- Recyclability - Bio-plastics and biodegradable plastics can be recycled and used again through organic processes. This will reduce the strain on harmful landfill. Some bio-plastics can also be composted to also produce renewable energies such as biogas
- Petroleum - Bio-plastics and biodegradable plastics help reduce the amount of petroleum used in the creation of plastic. Petroleum is currently used in the creation of conventional plastics which we already know has a negative impact on the environment due to the refinement process of it and the extraction of the oil itself from the Earth.
- Carbon Dioxide Levels - The degradation of bioplastics produces far less CO2 than their current counterpart. There is also a much lower amount of carbon dioxide released during the creation of certain bio plastics.
- Natural Decomposition - Biodegradable plastics have a much more efficient degradation process that doesn't release harmful chemicals into the environment. This allows for some biodegradable plastics to biodegrade in simple soil and as the plastic is non-toxic it won't affect the soil and the environment.
These are just a few of the most prevalent advantages to biodegradable plastics.
Why is biodegradable plastic bad?
Looking into the possible issues with biodegradable plastics we can see there are still a few environmental issues that remain. Ignoring cost and non-environmental issues the below will list environmental issues.
- Plastic contamination - Mixing both bio plastics and standard plastics is currently a world wide issue as people are unaware how to determine the difference between the two. This can cause large issues as if bioplastics end up landfill in some instances the environmental impact could actually be worse.
- Methane - Some biodegradable plastics when decomposing in landfills produce methane; Methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide and will absorb heat faster which will lea to the acceleration of climate change.
- Ocean Pollution - Although biodegradable plastics need water to decompose they wont actually decompose in the ocean due to the cold temperature. This leads to the same issue that we currently see with Ocean plastic pollution not only harming ocean life but also contaminating our planet.