Ecology

What is biodegradable plastic

Fortunately, people are increasingly aware of the importance of caring for the environment and reducing the waste we produce. Biodegradable plastics were born with that purpose, which seem to be the solution to the great global crisis of plastic pollution.

What does biodegradable mean

Biodegradability is known as the type of decomposition by which some products and substances disintegrate thanks to the action of certain biological organisms, such as bacteria, insects, fungi, algae, etc. These organisms use substances to produce energy, and create other compounds through them, such as tissues, organisms or amino acids. In addition, there must be favorable conditions of temperature, light, humidity, oxygen, etc., so that this occurs in a relatively short period of time.

Therefore, a product is biodegradable when it is capable of disintegrating through the action of the environment and the biological organisms that inhabit it. There are two types of biodegradation. On the one hand, the aerobic biodegradation , which occurs in the open air, where there is oxygen; and, on the other hand, anaerobic biodegradation , which takes place in the absence of this compound. The second produces biogas, mainly methane, a greenhouse gas that increases global warming.

Biodegradability is related to ecology and very often to the damage that plastics cause to nature, which take hundreds of years to decompose. The duration or decomposition time is a very important aspect to take into account when determining the degree of biodegradability . For example, a banana peel takes just 2 to 10 days to degrade and paper about 2 to 5 months, so these examples are much easier to biodegrade than packaging that includes, for example, plastic and paper, even if the plastic is biodegradable.

Biodegradable plastics: what are they

The biodegradable plastics are those that are made from renewable raw materials such as wheat, corn or cornstarch, soybean oil, potatoes, bananas or cassava. Given their form of production, these plastics do biodegrade through microorganisms, so they can be reintroduced into the natural cycle of the environment in the form of organic fertilizer beneficial to the soil and with a degradation time much shorter than that of conventional plastics. . In this other article we explain how to make biodegradable plastic with cornstarch .

However, although it seems that this is the solution to all the problems that we have had so far with plastic and its contamination, unfortunately this is not the case. Although they come from natural raw materials resorbable by nature, biodegradable plastics still present many problems.

Biodegradable plastics problems

  • The labeling of these plastics does not specify that their use reduces pollution in rivers and seas. The conditions that these plastics require for their decomposition are very rarely the same as those that occur in the oceans and rivers. Thus, they can take centuries to decompose if the microbes responsible for their decomposition do not find oxygen to carry out their task.
  • Although they take less time to degrade in natural environments, on average they can take around 3 years. For example, diapers made from conventional plastic take around 350 years to degrade, while those made from biodegradable plastic take 3 to 6 years.
  • Complex recycling. These plastics, being “biodegradable”, cannot be mixed with conventional ones, so a different recycling strategy would be required for these products.
  • Plastic production is obtained from food sources. This means that, even if they were biodegradable in a short period of time, large areas of land would be needed to cultivate the products of their manufacture, in addition to the use of fertilizers and water, which would increase the overexploitation and deforestation of the crops. natural ecosystems.
  • Specific conditions required. These conditions are the same as those found in industrial composting plants (balanced mixture of humidity, aeration, oxygen and a temperature above 50 ºC for a long time). It is very difficult to maintain these conditions for the production of biodegradable plastic on a large scale.
  • Their elaboration at the hands of renewable sources does not mean that they are manufactured with fewer harmful chemicals or additives.

To conclude, we can say that, although they are better than conventional ones, biodegradable plastics do not solve the current global problem of plastic pollution . In addition, its decomposition depends a lot on the conditions that occur in the environment.

However, these plastics can be very useful for certain uses and as a means of further research on this problem. However, to this day, the best way to combat plastic pollution is based on reducing any use of plastics, reusing them if necessary, and replacing them with other materials whenever possible, such as plastic bags. cloth or cardboard. Here you can learn more Alternatives to replace plastic bags .

Types of biodegradable plastics

basically, there are two types of biodegradable plastics :

  • Bioplastics: these plastics are obtained from renewable raw materials.
  • Plastics made with biodegradable additives: they are not produced 100% with renewable raw materials, but these plastics are made up of petrochemicals that improve their biodegradation.

Here are some examples of the usefulness of both types of biodegradable plastics.

  • Wrappers . The wrappers made of biodegradable plastic for food packaging. Let us remember that its decomposition takes much less time than traditional plastic, so it would be convenient to use bioplastics to reduce the contamination caused by the massive sale of food products.
  • Agricultural sector . It is a good choice as it can be mixed with seed coatings and mulch and to produce ground covers and pots.
  • Medicine . Biodegradable plastics are another successful option for the manufacture of certain plastic products intended for medicine such as degradable capsules inside the human body, micro-devices or absorbable sutures.
What is oxobiodegradation and oxobiodegradable plastic

It is known as oxobiodegradation to the process of decomposition of matter in which two stages converge, oxidation and biodegradation , which can happen at the same time or successively. This technology applicable during the manufacture of plastic thanks to the introduction of prodegrading agents allows this material to degrade in much less time than conventional plastic, from hundreds of years to just a few months with this oxo technology .

After the end of its useful life, the plastic, under abiotic conditions, begins to lose its properties and fragment. Then, through a cellular and oxidative phenomenon, the plastic becomes brittle and biodegrades into millions of particles invisible to the human eye. The possibility of their decomposition can be carried out in any environment with oxygen and without the need for water, they can be recycled and designed through recycled products.

These characteristics classify oxo-biodegradable plastic as a natural competitor with many advantages over other types of plastics. Thus, today we can find many products made from oxo-biodegradable plastic :

  • Shopping bags
  • Garbage bags
  • Gloves
  • Bottles
  • Cups
  • Packaging

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