Should biodegradable plastics really drive the eco-movement?

Most of us try to stretch the truth by associating the word ‘biodegradable’ to being eco-conscious. We’re here to tell you that that isn’t exactly the best way to care for our environment.

The plastic crisis…is still ongoing? 

Most plastic cups are not biodegradable. They are extremely harmful to the environment.
Most plastic cups are not biodegradable. They are extremely harmful to the environment.

While the invention of plastic has revolutionized our way of life, no technological advance comes without its price. Improperly discarded plastic is one of the most urgent problems facing the environment today.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, only 9.5% of the 33.6 million tons of plastic waste produced each year is recycled. Much of the rest ends up as litter and pollution. These clog waterways and release toxic chemicals into our earth. Today, the detriments plastics have on our environment are increasingly made aware to the public – hence, market demand for biodegradable plastics is ballooning.

The hype surrounding bio-plastics

Plastic Waste on the Beach
Plastic Waste on the Beach

Bio-plastics are short for biodegradable plastics. Biodegradable plastic is plastic that decomposes naturally in the environment and they are thought of as an immediate solution to waste pollution and climate change. They are in fact to a certain extent, and let’s explore why. 

Traditional plastics hold carbon. When they are disposed of and begin to decompose or when they are melted, that carbon is then released into the atmosphere. Methane and other forms of pollutants could also be released from traditional plastic when they are recycled and burned.

Biodegradable plastic, however, is plastic that decomposes naturally in the environment. They do not release carbon because no carbon is involved in the manufacturing process. Moreover, they do not contain polluting materials and any harmful substances mentioned above.

The Ugly, Unintended Consequences of bio-plastics

Starbucks 'regular' cups were wasteful. Even their compostable cups now have to end up in the right facility.
Starbucks ‘regular’ cups were wasteful. Even their compostable cups now have to end up in the right facility.

While biodegradable plastics are commended for their eco-friendly nature and sustainability, we should view this trend as black and white.

Biodegradable plastics do not decompose unless they are disposed of properly, meaning that they must be treated similarly to compost. The natural breakdown of the plastic will not occur if it is simply tossed in a landfill with other trash. Some scientists also suggest that greenhouse gases are locked within the plastic and are released into the atmosphere when composted. Hence they may not be as “eco-friendly” as they are being branded.

Many industrial composters accept only plastics that meet certain standards, ensuring they will leave no fragments behind that can harm the environment or human health. Hence, if we do not do a proper job at separating our trash and mix biodegradable materials in with recyclables, we might ruin the latter, creating a mix that can no longer be relied on to make durable new plastic.

Time is (Plas)Ticking

Dead bird tangled in a fishing net
Dead bird tangled in a fishing net

Time is ticking – plastic waste (biodegradable or not) has the potential to not only endangers the environment, but also our biodiversity. What can we, as consumers, do to help the environment the right way?

As mentioned previously, biodegradable plastic will only degrade if composted properly. However, composting may not be everyone’s cup of tea. You could alternatively consider recycling and reusing as they are more sustainable options.

1. Reduce Your Use of Single-Use Plastics

Wherever you live, the easiest and most direct way that you can get started is by reducing your own use of single-use plastics. Single-use plastics are plastic items that are used once and then discarded. The best way to do this is by:

a) refusing any single-use plastics that you do not need (e.g. straws, plastic bags, takeout utensils, takeout containers)

b) Use long-lasting items (such as razors and refillable bottles) rather than disposable ones. It can work out far cheaper in the long run.

c) Avoid plastic packaging eg. bar soaps instead of shower gels in containers

Choose to reuse when it comes to shopping bags and plastic bottles. Carrying reusable versions of plastic bangs and bottles when out, including reusable grocery bags, produce bags, bottles, utensils, coffee cups, and dry cleaning garment bags. If you have no choice but to buy a plastic bottle or a plastic container at the supermarket, reuse it instead of throwing it away. A bottle can be filled up as many times as you like and containers can be used to store other food.

Try to refuse plastic items that are offered at the shops and reuse the shopping bags we already have. Give this a try and you’ll see that refusing single-serve packaging is often not as difficult as you think it’d be.

2. Recycle when you can

We’re surrounded by plastic! So if you must use plastic, try to choose #1 (PETE) or #2 (HDPE), which are the most commonly recycled plastics. Again, recycling is one of the ways to reduce damage to the environment, but not the most effective way. Minimizing your consumption of items by avoiding impulse buys and purchasing unnecessary items is the best way to prevent putting stress on our already delicate eco-system. When you halt a purchase, you reap a long-term benefit.

”When one catches a cold, the rest of the room sneezes.” Individual efforts drive change on a macro-scale. Let us join hands against this eco-movement and educate ourselves and others about biodegradable plastics. Shop sustainably at our eco-shop to reduce your consumption and increase your lifetime of supply of guilt-free happiness!

 

References:

https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2012/01/31/what-happens-to-all-that-plastic/

http://www.pepctplastics.com/resources/connecticut-plastics-learning-center/biodegradable-plastics/

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