Plastics are a central part of modern life. Humans are using different forms of plastics each day. For instance, you have a plastic shopping bag, electronics, car parts, and furniture. The food containers, pens, and water bottles in your office and household are all plastic.
Manufacturers and product designers choose plastic due to its ease of use, versatility, and durability. While this is an excellent idea as it helps businesses save on costs, plastics are turning into an environmental disaster.
Large amounts of them end in oceans, rivers, and lakes. Also, microplastics are leading water contaminants. These materials take centuries to decompose, becoming a threat to the environment, humans, and animals. However, scientists came up with a solution through the invention of biodegradable plastics.
Unlike other plastics, bioplastics can decompose naturally. The decomposing organisms can easily break up the makeup materials of this type of plastic. But like anything else, there are various advantages and disadvantages of biodegradable plastics.
Keep reading to learn some of the benefits and shortcomings of bioplastics.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Biodegradable Plastics
Advantages of biodegradable plastics
Biodegradable plastics have many advantages, which include:
1. Low carbon emission
The production of biodegradable plastics does not involve the burning of fossils. Its polymers occur naturally. With zero oil-based content, it does not require refining processes that result in the release of high carbon dioxide to the environment.
In essence, the bioplastic production process emits only 8% of carbon dioxide. This amount is 68% less than that of traditional plastics. Hence, this type of plastic enhances environmental protection by lowering carbon emissions.
2. Easy to recycle
Recycling biodegradable plastics is easy. You can recycle these plastics to create other by-products for other processes. For instance, you can use them to create renewable energy biogases or as compost material in your yard.
Their recycling is safe and easy as they do not release toxic chemicals into the environment.
3. Reduce the number of wastes going to the landfills
Non-degradable plastics form a significant component of waste in landfills. With the increased usage of plastics, people will need more spaces for landfills. The landfills occupy land you utilize for other uses, such as residential houses, agriculture, or industries.
Biodegradable reduce the amount of plastic ending in a landfill. Since you can recycle or decompose them, you will not require setting up new dumps despite having a considerable amount of plastic waste in your office or home.
4. Low energy consumption
Unlike traditional plastics, biodegradables require less energy to produce. You can use less energy to create a large amount of plastic within a short duration. Less energy means low pollution.
Also, the aspect lowers the amount of heat released to the environment. All these contribute positively to curbing global warming. So, biodegradable plastics are a good idea for conserving the environment and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
5. High compostability
The disadvantages of non-biodegradable plastics are that they take forever to decompose or require a comprehensive process to deal with them. Much of it ends in the rivers and oceans, threatening humanity.
Conversely, biodegradable plastics decompose naturally and blend with the soil. The material becomes food for microorganisms. This aspect is beneficial to the land and environment.
Also, it makes it cheap to deal with plastic wastes. The decomposition process is faster and can take days, weeks, or months.
Disadvantages of biodegradable plastics
Though biodegradable plastics has many benefits over traditional ones, it also has a baggage of disadvantages. Here are some of them:
1. Pose a contamination risk
Biodegradable plastics can pose contamination risks to both environment and humans. As you may know, the raw materials for producing these plastics come from plants such as corn and soybeans.
Some farmers use herbicides and insecticides, or other contaminant chemicals on these plants. This contamination gets transferred to the final products. During decomposition, the contamination can get to the soil or water and have harmful effects on animals and humans.
2. Expensive to process and recycle
Producing and recycling biodegradable can be expensive. The process requires comprehensive equipment and composers that many manufacturers cannot afford.
Essentially, the cost of producing these types of plastic is higher than one of the traditional ones. This means that manufacturers cannot produce biodegradable plastics without incentives from the government or other conservation authorities.
3. Does not solve the ocean pollution problem
While it decomposes naturally, biodegradable plastics behave like other plastics when in the ocean. They do not decompose due to low temperatures. Thus, they either turn into microplastics or float on the sea.
This endangers the lives of marine organisms. Hence, they are not a solution to the ocean pollution problems.
FAQs on the Biodegradable Plastics
How long does it take for biodegradable plastics to decompose?
On average, biodegradable plastic material can take 3 months to six months or a year to decompose. Other types can take a few years to undergo complete decomposition.
However, the exact amount of time it takes depends on various aspects such as moisture levels and temperature. Also, the environment matters. For instance, these plastics cannot decompose in the ocean and other marine habitats.
Is there a difference between bioplastic and biodegradable plastics?
The difference between bioplastic and biodegradable plastics is the material used to make them. Bioplastic is made of organic materials such as soybean and corn plus polylactic acid (PLA).
On the other hand, biodegradable plastics are petroleum-based plastics with an additive that harnesses their decomposition. The advantages of bioplastics are that they decompose naturally easier than biodegradable plastics.
Why biodegradable plastic is bad
While it has many advantages, biodegradable plastic can be a bad idea. Some types of biodegradable produce high methane levels during the decomposition process.
Methane is a central greenhouse gas with higher heat absorption than carbon dioxide. Hence, biodegradable plastics contribute to climate change and global warming.
No doubt, there are many advantages and disadvantages of biodegradable plastics.
These materials are environmental-friendly and decompose quickly.
However, they do not decompose in the marine environment and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. All in all, they are better than traditional plastics.