Updated: Apr 10, 2020
According to the National Geographic More than eighteen trillion pounds of plastic have been produced to date, and eighteen billion pounds of plastic flows into the ocean every year. It ensnares the marine animals we cherish and the fish we put on our plates, it appears in the table salt we use, and it’s even found in our own bodies.
Clearly this is a huge problem which we need to address immediately.
It really doesn't help when brands or manufacturers misuse the word 'biodegradable' when producing plastics, this means we consumers really need to be careful and do our research before buying into something that claims to be environmentally friendly.
You might have been sold on 'biodegradable plastic' products before when your were shopping with an ethical mindset and don't be ashamed because before I had done my research I was too.
Do you know what the major differences are between 'biodegradable plastics' and 'compostable plastics' or 'bioplastics'?
Well if you don't know the answer already prepare to be shocked...
According to Melanie Ezrin, a junior public policy and environmental science major, “biodegradable” means that plastic breaks down into “natural products,” meaning nothing chemical or artificial.
“[Biodegradable plastics] don’t decay the way people think they do,” Ezrin said. “You hear the word ‘biodegradable’ and you think of throwing an apple into the woods.”
So the problem with these so called 'biodegradable plastics' is that the only thing that separates them from your usual toxic plastics is the fact that a chemical has been added which assists to break the plastic down into smaller plastics, however this does not remove the toxic chemicals that exist in the plastic, it just simply blends the toxic micro-plastics in with the earth or water making it almost impossible to seperate and more easily consumed by plants and wildlife.
“If [plastic] doesn’t break down it’s a problem, if [plastic] does break down it’s a problem,” Says McKay Jenkins, a professor of English, journalism and environmental humanities.
Unless of course we are talking about 'compostable plastics' aka 'bioplastics'.
'Bioplastics' are made from plant or other biological material instead of petroleum.
This means they are able to break down into the earth naturally as they are not made from any harmful chemicals.
This article from The National Geographic:
What you need to know about plant-based plastics also states:
It can either be made by extracting sugar from plants like corn and sugarcane to convert into polylactic acids (PLAs), or it can be made from polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) engineered from microorganisms. PLA plastic is commonly used in food packaging, while PHA is often used in medical devices like sutures and cardiovascular patches.
Because PLA often comes from the same large industrial facilities making products like ethanol, it’s the cheapest source of bioplastic. It’s the most common type and is also used in plastic bottles, utensils, and textiles.
However, that’s not the end of the story. One 2011 study from the University of Pittsburgh found other environmental issues associated with growing plants for bioplastic. Among them: pollution from fertilizers and land diverted from food production.
Using a substance like corn for plastic instead of food is at the center of a debate over how resources should be allocated in an increasingly food-scarce world.
So am I better off using bioplastics instead of biodegradable plastics?
I would say yes, definitely but even better I would try to rule plastic out all together.
Although natural bioplastics don't have the nasty chemicals which biodegradable plastics do it doesn't mean they have a neutral carbon footprint. If you think a little more deeply about it; the factories manufacturing these plastics uses electricity... is that produced sustainably?
The farms that grow the corn or other crops used to create these bioplastics, are they using sustainable farming practices?
Let us know what your thoughts are on this topic in the comments below.
What you need to know about plant-based plastics:
The Truth About Biodegradable Plastics: