There is a serious problem with biodegradable plastics

Due to the misleading name, many people think that this type of waste does not cause problems for nature.

Plastic, although extremely versatile, unfortunately also causes serious problems for humanity. According to a shocking figure, approximately 60 percent of all plastic ever produced in the world is currently awaiting its fate in the form of waste.

It is a gigantic amount, the plastics from the 19th century. since its discovery in the 19th century, mankind has produced roughly ten billion tons, of which six billion tons are now littering the planet’s landfills or in the form of plastic waste in nature: microplastics, for example, can be detected in the bodies of 90 percent of seabirds. The situation is so bad that for each inhabitant of the Earth there are approximately 21,000 pieces of plastic waste floating in the ocean, which means a total of 170 trillion pieces, the total weight of which exceeds 2.2 million tons.

There are 21,000 pieces of plastic floating in the seas and oceans for every inhabitant of the earth (Photo: Unsplash/Cristian Palmer)
There are 21,000 pieces of plastic floating in the seas and oceans for every inhabitant of the earth (Photo: Unsplash/Cristian Palmer)

The problem has become such that the use of single-use plastics is being banned in more and more places around the world. In the European Union, for example, disposable glasses, but also hotel shampoo bottles can suffer this fate.

A few years ago, products began to appear in stores with spectacular signs announcing that they are made of biodegradable plastics or are packaged in something like that. This sounds good, since one would think that similar materials could not cause such a problem in nature either, since sooner or later they disappear from the face of the Earth.

This has now been refuted by a recent research, which has shown that one of the most popular materials advertised as biodegradable plastics does not break down so easily. Various similar plastics are typically produced from corn starch, sugar cane and similar plants, but even 100 percent plant-based bioplastics are not as environmentally friendly as many people think.

Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have pointed out that plastics called compostable or biodegradable do not mean that objects made of such materials will quietly dissolve in ocean waters or deep in forests.

The biodegradable indicator does not take into account the conditions under which plastic becomes waste. For example, what can decompose in a forest may not decompose in the ocean and vice versa.

What consumers do not know is that plastics advertised as compostable must be processed in composting plants

– pointed out Sarah-Jeanne Royer, oceanographer expert at Scripps, author of the research material.

In industrial composting plants, the composting process requires a certain pressure and temperature, which cannot be solved with home compost. And for the various plastics that are claimed to break down in an environment similar to seawater, it turns out that most of the similar tests have only been done under laboratory conditions. Scripps’ research was the first to specifically examine the behavior of various plastics in the ocean, but especially PLA plastics.

The latter is particularly important because it is used as a packaging material as well as a raw material for clothing, and the latter is a frequent guest especially in one of the world’s most polluting industries, the world of fast fashion.

Royer pointed out that PLA is also used as a raw material for plastic cutlery popularized as biodegradable, compostable or simply – at the price of a little greenwashing.

The researcher and his colleagues therefore placed PLA samples in various marine ecosystems and used cellulose-based fibers such as cotton, oil-based plastics such as polyester and mixtures of the two as controls.

Certain samples were placed on the surface of the ocean, while others were recorded at a depth of ten meters, and then 14 months later, they looked at how they changed over time. The cellulose-based samples disappeared by the end of the experiment, however, the so-called biodegradable plastics, like other plastics, barely showed any changes.

According to the researchers, one possible solution would be if more people had access to industrial composting options, but this is still a very distant future. Royer’s home is, for example, in Hawaii, where there is only one similar plant for the small one and a half million residents of the American state.

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Source: PC World Online Hírek by

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