With plastics causing so much harm to the environment, new studies and researches have come up with an alternative called biodegradable plastic, which is arguably more environment friendly than conventional plastic. Biodegradable plastic is a type of plastic which is able to break down by the action of some specific micro organisms like fungi and bacteria. Unlike conventional plastics that don’t break down easily and stay on the earth for thousands of years, biodegradable plastic breaks down much quicker. That is the reason why biodegradable plastic is gathering so much popularity among the masses. But the question remains- does it live up to its expectations?
- Types of biodegradable plastic
Much debate has ensued on whether biodegradable plastic is actually better than petroleum based plastic. Before we get into this debate on which is better, let us first talk about the different types of biodegradable plastic. There are some bio plastics that break down into small pieces when exposed to sunlight and oxygen. These are called the photodegradable or Oxo-biodegradable plastics. Then there are others that decompose or break down into methane, carbon dioxide and biomass by the work of micro organisms and ultimately leave no toxic residue behind. This type of biodegradable plastic is called compostable plastic.
- Uses of biodegradable plastic
Biodegradable plastic is mainly used in the business of food packaging, medicine and farming. Unlike the long-lasting conventional plastics, biodegradable plastic is much more suitable in the areas of food and medicine packaging. In fact, biodegradable plastic is also used in the catering industry to make plates, glasses and other non reusable items.
- Which is better- petroleum based plastic or biodegradable plastic?
Now coming back to our discussion on which plastic is better for the environment, many studies have been done to determine the truth. It has been found that biodegradable plastic does indeed break down earlier than conventional plastic but that doesn’t mean that it breaks down so easily. Even after twenty five years, it has been seen that biodegradable plastic has not been able to disintegrate properly, thus failing its entire purpose totally. Also, biodegradable plastic is more expensive than ordinary plastic. Ordinary plastic is quite cheap and hence more widely used. Ordinary plastic also lasts many years.
- The points of concern
Another major problem with biodegradable plastic is the disposability issue. Biodegradable plastic needs a proper composting site where it would be able to degrade completely. But most of us lack awareness in this matter. Biodegradable plastic ends up in landfills along with the conventional ones. Hence, ultimately it does not get the suitable composting arrangement it requires for its disintegration. Moreover, yet another growing concern with biodegradable plastic nowadays is the risk of people using them more and not disposing them off properly. When we get to know that the plastic is biodegradable, we think we can use them all the time. We tend to increase their use, thinking that since it is biodegradable we are not harming the environment. But that is not true. Due to its improper disposal, we are actually producing more trash that ultimately does not go away.
- The remedy
It is the attitude of the people that needs to change. Instead of looking for a magic cure for plastic, we should lessen our use of plastic- whether degradable or not, as much as possible. Alternative eco-friendly materials like paper, jute and cloth can be used. Even if we use plastic, we should ensure that they are recycled or disposed of properly. Recycling is a must in case of plastic. It is our duty to try and rid our earth from the curse of plastic as much as we can. Its total elimination is not possible, but efforts can be made to reduce its use.
- Biodegradable plastic has some positive attributes too
Although biodegradable plastic may not provide us with a miraculous solution, when we come to think of it, it is better than conventional plastic. First of all, unlike the petrochemical based conventional plastics, biodegradable plastics do not require the use of fossil fuels. Even semi-biodegradable plastics use less fossil fuel than the conventional ones. Moreover, if composted properly, biodegradable plastic is an effective tool in waste management. The municipalities are looking forward to implementing this strategy in waste management. The one thing required here is properly educating the masses on the uses and proper disposal of the biodegradable plastics. If people start becoming environmentally conscious and dispose the biodegradable plastics properly, then these plastics can indeed turn out to be a boon for the society and the earth.
Lastly, a proper composting facility is also required for these biodegradable plastics after they have been thrown away. Well maintained, organized and effective composting facilities are a must in every city. It is the joint effort of the government and the people in this endeavour. So make your decision wisely the next time you use plastic.