Biodegradable plastics are gaining more and more space in the markets and in proposals for everyday use, but behind this there is an undeniable reality, which is that plastic itself cannot decompose.
What does biodegradable mean?
We will begin by explaining that the concept of biodegradable comes from the biological degradation of an element that naturally reincorporates into the environmental habitat. So, is plastic biodegradable?
The answer is NO. Although there may be plastics that disintegrate more easily, the chemical composition with which these elements are created contains a high degree of additives which do not have organic decomposition or any type of biological degradation.
Potato or banana skins are biodegradable on their own, but adding the necessary additives to create plastic from them will not break down in nature, because they are not 100% organic. Still, it is a starting point for finding an alternative to regular plastic.
What is a biodegradable plastic?
The reality is that we are currently working on the development of plastics that are less polluting and have a better impact on the environment. These plastics are produced from raw materials such as cassava, corn, banana which have a degradation level of 100%.
Since they come from purely natural resources, the process they undergo during their useful life makes them return to the environmental habitat in such a way that they reintegrate the natural carbon cycle.
Although they are a great opportunity, so far they have not been used on a massive scale. This is because they represent a challenge for their production, since the raw materials from which they can be composed are also used to a greater extent to feed the population.
The amount of land needed to cultivate these foods would be exorbitant to fulfill the food and production function for biodegradable plastic. Although it is a great resource, a strategy for the planting and use of plastics has not yet been implemented.
These plastics are actually still plastics because of the amount of additives with which they have been created, although it is true that a large number of companies sell their products ostensibly developed with plastics that are 100% biodegradable, these do not return completely to the habitat and it has not been scientifically proven that microorganisms consume 100% of the waste.
Within this variety of biodegradable plastics, there are elements such as everyday plastic bags. These are made of oxo-degradable plastics, which are a mixture of common plastic with additives that help their environmental degradation.
In several European countries, green plastics have been banned. And the truth is that they do not provide the best solutions to the environmental problem.
These biodegradable or green plastics also generate water pollution and do not help to reduce the amount of plastic that occupies the world's oceans. In order to achieve an adequate degradation, specific external conditions are required to achieve biodegradation. Under this specificity in temperature, humidity or oxygen, not all environments are suitable and help these plastics to degrade.
What about compostable plastic?
Compostable plastic products are designed to biodegrade under certain specific and controlled conditions in industrial composting plants, not in home composting.
What does the European Union say?
In 2018, the European Commission published a European strategy for plastics in a circular economy, where the EU is urged to reduce plastic waste to ensure that plastic products are designed to be recycled and to invest in plastic recycling measures, among others.
On biodegradable plastics, the EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy 2020 envisions the creation of a policy framework including harmonized standards that define and label biodegradable and compostable plastics and find out in which uses there are more environmental advantages to using these plastics. (European Environment Agency)
Awareness is an important step
Reviewing the issue of plastics makes us look at the big manufacturers, who continue to produce under the same polluting conditions. It is important to be aware of this, and to see that each one of us can do our bit by avoiding buying products packaged in plastic and trying to change our production and consumption habits.
The prevention and reduction of plastic waste should undoubtedly be our top priority, and we need to increase our efforts to avoid such waste, as it is increasing all the time. Plastics are a good choice for many products. However, we need to design and use these plastics in a circular way, as well as ensure that they can and will be recycled on a larger scale than they are today.
Join the fight!