We all know that the excess of plastic is one of the biggest environmental issues that our planet is facing today. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastics than fish in our oceans. That is why, in recent years, a global campaign against the excess plastic use, overpacking and proposing the possible alternatives is coming together.
In the attempt to create solutions to the plastic epidemic, we are beginning to talk about biodegradable and compostable plastics as more ecological options to conventional plastics. But as the old saying goes “all that glitters is not gold”, and that is why it is important to carefully look into both concepts and analyze their advantages and disadvantages.
Let's start with the concept of biodegradable plastics, this includes plastics (or products) that are broken down into natural chemical elements by the action of biological agents. Sun, water, bacteria, plants or animals are considered biological agents. There is no human intervention in this process.
Another type of plastic alternative that is increasingly spoken of, is compostable plastic. This refers to plastics that are composted together with organic waste. In this case, for a material to be compostable, it must be degraded in a certain period of time and under certain conditions. In this case, there is human intervention.
Both of these two terms are easily confused with bioplastics, which may or may not be related. Bioplastics have a renewable origin. They come from renewable organic material such as corn starch or sugarcane. This does not mean that they are biodegradable or compostable, although they tend to be.
Although these are great alternatives to conventional plastics, biodegradable, compostable or bioplastic do not entirely fix the problem. Each of these have significant environmental disadvantages that you may not know about.
- The biodegradable plastic usually needs very specific conditions to be decomposed.
- Something similar happens with compostable plastic, if it ends up in a landfill, is not going to become compost properly. So the result is the same problem we are currently dealing with: more accumulated garbage.
- In many cases these plastics degrade naturally, they do so by breaking down into smaller plastics which just ends up turning into micro-plastics. These micro-plastics could then end up in the sea or even in the water that we drink.
- When using these type of plastics (including bioplastics), the amount that is produced is not diminished, so there is still great environmental impact by continuing to create more disposable items.
So, what is the best solution you ask? It's easy, to stop using single use plastics all together.
On another note, plastic is not the devil. It is a very useful material that is made to last. The major problem is that we just don’t use it in the correct way. Something that was made to be used again and again, has turned into a disposable product and the environmental cost of this is huge. So the only way to really stop this huge problem we are facing is to forget about disposable products and switch to reusable ones.
- María Álvarez Pérez