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The Truth About Biodegradable Plastics

The Truth About Biodegradable Plastics

We’ve all heard about biodegradable plastics and their supposed environmental benefits. But what is the real truth behind these products? Are they really as good for our planet as we think they are, or is there something else going on that we don’t know? In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the reality of biodegradable plastics and uncover some hard truths.

The concept of sustainable living has become increasingly popular over the years, with more people recognizing the need to reduce their impact on the environment. As such, companies have been quick to jump on board by producing “eco-friendly” products like biodegradable plastics. These materials supposedly break down easily when exposed to air or water, making them a great choice for those who want to do their part for the environment.

But just how effective are these products really? Do they live up to the promises made by manufacturers and retailers? And if so, can they help us make meaningful progress towards sustainability? Read on to find out!


It’s a common misconception that biodegradable plastics are an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional plastic. But what exactly is biodegradable plastic, and can it really help reduce our global waste problem? To start off, let’s explore what biodegradable plastic actually is.

Biodegradable plastics are made from renewable resources like cornstarch or vegetable oils, rather than petroleum-based materials like conventional plastics. They break down naturally over time when exposed to microbes in the environment such as bacteria and fungi. Unlike many other types of plastic, they don’t need to be recycled or disposed of in landfills; instead they decompose into carbon dioxide, water vapor, and biomass — all of which are harmless components found in nature. As a result, these materials have become more popular with consumers who want to reduce their environmental footprint without completely giving up on convenience products like disposable packaging and containers.

So while biodegradable plastics may seem like a great way to cut back on plastic pollution, there are still some issues that need addressing before they can truly make an impact on our planet’s health. Next we’ll take a closer look at the different types of bioplastics available today and how each one affects the environment differently.

Types Of Plastics

There are several types of plastics that can be classified as biodegradable. These include polylactic acid (PLA), starch-based plastics, and cellulose derivatives. PLA is the most popular type of plastic for biodegrading because it breaks down easily in water, making it a great choice for items like food packaging. Starch-based plastics are made with cornstarch or other natural starches and break down even faster than PLA when exposed to certain enzymes. Cellulose derivatives such as paper and hemp fibers also have some biodegradability, although they’re not quite as efficient at breaking down in water as PLA or starch-based plastics.

Biodegradable plastics offer an eco-friendly way to dispose of products without harming the environment. But there are both advantages and disadvantages associated with these materials which need to be taken into consideration before using them on a widespread basis. Now let’s take a look at the pros and cons of biodegradable plastics.

Advantages And Disadvantages

As the saying goes, “There are two sides to every coin” – and this is certainly true when considering biodegradable plastics. As a material with countless potential applications, it can be tempting to see only its benefits; however, there are some drawbacks that should also be taken into account. Here’s a quick look at both:


  • Easier on the environment than traditional plastics
  • Biodegrades quickly in natural conditions
  • Some types of bioplastics have great tensile strength and durability

On the plus side, biodegradable plastics offer clearly defined environmental advantages over their non-biodegradable counterparts. For example, they don’t require large amounts of energy or fossil fuels for production like regular plastic does. Furthermore, these materials break down much more quickly once disposed of in an outdoor setting – often within just weeks! In addition, many forms of bioplastic boast impressive levels of durability which make them suitable for use in numerous everyday items such as food packaging and shopping bags.


  • Can take hundreds of years to degrade in landfill sites
  • Contain toxins that could harm animals if ingested
  • Expensive compared to regular plastics

Unfortunately, biodegradable plastics aren’t without their flaws either. Despite breaking down relatively swiftly in certain settings (such as soil or water), most will still take centuries to decompose completely in landfills due to the lack of oxygen present in those environments. Additionally, research has suggested that some may contain toxins that could cause health problems for wildlife if consumed by mistake. Finally, despite all their positives these materials tend to cost significantly more than conventional forms so widespread adoption isn’t yet economic feasible for many businesses.

While using biodegradable plastics undoubtedly offers several clear advantages over traditional varieties, it’s important not to overlook their shortcomings too. Moving forward then it’ll be essential for producers and consumers alike to weigh up both pros and cons carefully before making any decisions about how best to address our ongoing plastic waste problem. With this information now firmly established we can move onto examining the full environmental impact of bioplastics…

Environmental Impact

Despite being marketed as a more sustainable option, biodegradable plastics do not always have the reduced environmental impact that is expected. While they may break down over time and be less persistent in landfills than traditional plastic products, their use can still have significant environmental effects. Let’s take a closer look at some of these impacts:

Impact Positive Negative
Energy Usage Reduced energy consumption during production
Efficient breakdown process after disposal
High temperatures are needed to melt bioplastics for manufacturing processes
Breakdown process requires microorganisms which aren’t found everywhere
Waste Generation Reduced waste generation due to efficient material usage
Fewer pollutants released into atmosphere through burning or melting
The amount of naturally occurring materials used in creating bioplastics makes it difficult to recycle them without additional resources like water and chemicals
Landfill Impact Reduced presence in landfills due to decomposition over time
Requires no additional resources post-disposal beyond natural elements already present in landfill environment
Bioplastics need correct environments with adequate oxygen levels and temperature control to properly decompose–not available in all landfill sites

Although biodegradable plastics seem like an ideal solution on the surface, there are still potential drawbacks related to its manufacture and disposal. For example, many require higher temperatures during production than traditional plastics do along with specific conditions for proper decomposition afterwards. Additionally, although these products generate far fewer pollutants when burned or melted compared to conventional plastics, it can still happen if not disposed of correctly. Ultimately, while biodegradable plastics certainly offer advantages over traditional plastic products, a measured approach is necessary before any conclusions about their true environmental impact can be made.

Manufacturing processes for bioplastic products vary depending on the type of product desired and what materials are being used. Thus understanding how different types of bioplastics are produced is essential for making informed decisions about their sustainability.

Manufacturing Processes

Manufacturing biodegradable plastics is like a puzzle. All the pieces have to fit together perfectly in order for it to work as intended. The plastic is made from renewable sources, such as vegetable-based polymers and starches derived from crops like corn, potatoes and sugarcane. These materials are ground into small particles that can be melted down and molded into different shapes when heated at high temperatures. After cooling off, these molds become rigid plastic objects with varying degrees of durability depending on their design and composition.

The manufacturing process does not stop there though; many times additives must be added to the mix in order to make sure the product degrades properly in various environments. For example, some products may require anti-bacterial properties or UV protection so they don’t disintegrate too quickly when exposed to sunlight. Other ingredients can help strengthen and enhance the material’s ability to withstand wear and tear over time.

All of this comes together to create a highly efficient way of producing eco-friendly plastics that offer both convenience and sustainability without sacrificing quality—a win-win situation for everyone involved. With all its advantages, biodegradable plastics have much potential to revolutionize our world by providing us with an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional plastics that’s just as durable if not more so. As we transition towards greater sustainability, this technology will only continue gaining traction, making it easier than ever before for businesses and consumers alike to do their part in reducing waste while still enjoying the same level of convenience we’ve come to expect from modern products. Moving forward, let’s take a closer look at how durable these new alternatives really are…


The truth about biodegradable plastics is that they are not necessarily more durable than traditional plastic. Many of them still degrade only when exposed to certain environmental conditions, such as the presence of oxygen or moisture.

Biodegradable plastics typically come in two forms: compostable and photodegradable. Compostable plastics break down quickly in a compost pile due to their natural additives, but must be disposed of properly for this to occur. Photodegradables rely on sunlight exposure to decompose, which can take months or even years depending on how much sunlight is present.

Some factors that may affect durability include:

  • Type of Plastic:
  • Traditional Plastics: These do not easily breakdown even with long-term exposure to extreme temperatures and other elements.
  • Biodegradable Plastics: Depending on the type and chemical composition, some types may be more resilient while others may break down too quickly in unfavorable conditions.
  • Exposure to Environmental Factors: Different environments can speed up or slow down degradation process, making it difficult to accurately predict lifetime span of a particular product made from biodegradable material.

Despite these limitations, there are various advantages that could make biodegradable materials worthwhile investments over traditional ones. With careful consideration regarding potential applications and proper disposal methods, businesses interested in sustainability might find value in using bioplastics instead of relying solely on traditional plastic products. Transitioning into the topic of recycling potential, we will now explore if current technologies allow us to reuse these materials effectively…

Recycling Potential

Moving on from the durability of biodegradable plastics, let’s look at their recycling potential. Many people believe that all types of plastic can be recycled – however this is not true for bioplastics. Bioplastic products are often made up of mixtures of materials which makes them hard to recycle. In fact, some companies have even stated that they do not recommend attempting to recycle these items due to the cost and complex process needed.

Advantages Disadvantages Results
Can go in regular waste stream Difficult/costly to recycle Not widely recyclable
Degrades quickly Cannot be incinerated Limited disposal options
Composts easily Compounds may leach out Environmentally friendly

Although recycling is an important part of reducing plastic waste, it does come with its own set of drawbacks when it comes to biodegradable plastics. The table above shows both advantages and disadvantages associated with recycling biodegradable plastics as well as the overall results this has for the environment. It appears that although bioplastics may seem like a great solution for environmental waste reduction, their lack of widespread recyclability means that other methods must be employed if we want to make a positive impact on our planet.

Now let’s take a deeper dive into another aspect of eco-friendly disposals: composting capabilities. Understanding how biodegradable plastics interact with the soil will give us greater insight into whether or not they are actually beneficial for our environment.

Composting Capabilities

According to recent reports, the global bioplastics market is estimated to grow at a compound annual rate of 16.2% between 2020 and 2027. This growth has been predominantly driven by increasing consumer awareness around the need for sustainable packaging solutions. With that in mind, there’s no doubt that biodegradable plastics can help us reduce our environmental footprint – but how well do they actually compost?

The answer depends on what kind of plastic you’re talking about. Bioplastic made from plant materials such as corn starch and sugar cane will break down very quickly when exposed to oxygen, heat and moisture in the right environment. However, petroleum-based “biodegradable” plastics are not always so simple; some may take up to 12 years or more to completely decompose! That said, these types of plastic products do have their benefits: they often use fewer resources than traditional plastics, provide an alternative form of energy generation if burned instead of sent to landfill and don’t require additional preservatives like traditional plastics might.

In short, while bioplastics offer viable alternatives for reducing waste compared to traditional petrochemical-based plastics, it’s important to remember that not all types degrade in the same way – or even within a reasonable time frame! Therefore, understanding which type works best for your needs is essential before investing in them. As we move forward into this new era of sustainability, it’s worth considering the potential risks associated with using certain kinds of biodegradable plastics too – something we’ll explore further in the next section about toxicity concerns.

Toxicity Concerns

It’s clear that biodegradable plastics are a great way to reduce the environmental impact of plastic waste. But, it’s important to understand what comes with these materials and how they may potentially affect us. Let’s take a look at some of the toxicity concerns associated with biodegradable plastics.

One major concern is on the production end. Many chemicals used in making bioplastics are toxic, such as formaldehyde or benzene derivatives. This can cause health issues for workers who come into contact with them during processing or manufacture. As well, there have been reports linking air pollution from bioplastic manufacturing plants to respiratory problems in nearby communities.

Another potential source of toxicity is when we use biodegradable plastics ourselves. In some cases, when we dispose of items made out of these materials, they don’t always break down completely and may release toxins into the environment over time due to improper disposal practices. Also, many studies indicate that not all types of bioplastics actually decompose quickly enough to avoid releasing any harmful substances before being fully processed by natural sources like composting or anaerobic digestion (AD).

These findings suggest that while biodegradable plastics provide an effective alternative for reducing plastic waste, careful consideration should be taken when deciding whether their usage carries more risks than benefits overall. To move forward confidently, further research needs to be done about food safety considerations related to using these products in consumer goods and packaging applications.

Food Safety Considerations

Food safety considerations for biodegradable plastics are like a Rubik’s cube; complex yet solvable. Here are 4 key points to consider:

  • Biodegradable plastics made from plant-based materials may not be food safe and need to be tested before use in contact with food products.
  • Animal-based bioplastics must also meet the same standards as traditional plastic packaging when it comes to preventing harmful bacteria growth, odours and potential contamination of food products.
  • Bioplastic containers should have adequate protections built into their design such as lids or other sealing mechanisms to prevent accidental spills or cross contamination during transport.
  • The impact that bioplastics can have on the environment must be taken into account when deciding if they are suitable for food packaging applications.

Considering these criteria, there is much more than meets the eye when assessing whether biodegradable plastics will work in practice for all types of food packaging requirements. It is essential to understand how each type of bioplastic behaves over time in order to make sure it offers consumers a safe experience while still being environmentally friendly. With careful consideration and testing, sustainable solutions can be developed that offer both peace of mind and environmental protection. As we move forward, global legislation will play an increasingly important role in determining which forms of bioplastic packaging are allowed on store shelves worldwide.

Global Legislation

Biodegradable plastic has been the subject of much debate among governments and corporations around the world. In an effort to reduce global pollution caused by non-biodegradable plastic, many countries have enacted legislation that requires companies to use biodegradable or compostable plastics in their products.

The following table outlines which countries have implemented such laws:

Country Legislation Year Enacted
Canada Compostable Plastic Packaging Labelling Act 2018 (CPPLA) 2018
USA Bioplastics Standard for Disposal Bags & Puncture Resistant Film Used for Food Service Ware Applications (ASTM D6400) 2012
Brazil National Policy on Solid Waste Management PNRS 2006 2006 2005

It’s clear that these nations are taking steps towards a more sustainable future. While there is still a long way to go, it’s encouraging to see countries like Canada leading the charge when it comes to protecting our environment from harmful waste. Moreover, as other major economies follow suit, we can expect biodegradable plastic usage to become increasingly commonplace in the coming years.
With this shift in global attitudes we can look forward to cleaner oceans, rivers and air – but only if we continue pushing for change through legislation and education.

Future Outlook

The future of biodegradable plastics is bright, with the potential to significantly reduce global plastic pollution. To that end, let’s take a look at what lies ahead:

  1. The continued development of bioplastics and other environmentally friendly materials.
  2. A greater focus on consumer education about sustainable alternatives and their benefits.
  3. Increased investment in research and innovation aimed at creating more efficient and cost-effective solutions for reducing plastic waste around the world.
  4. Governments working together to create common standards or regulations regarding bioplastic production, use, disposal, etc., across countries and industries alike.

This is an exciting time for biodegradable plastics as we continue to strive towards finding better ways of dealing with our mounting environmental issues – from ocean plastic pollution to climate change – all while ensuring economic security for industry stakeholders involved in the process. We have seen efforts such as using seaweed polymers to make single-use packaging items which are compostable within weeks start to become reality; this could be just the beginning! It is clear that there is still much work to do but also great potential for progress in this space if we come together collectively recognize its importance and act accordingly.


In conclusion, biodegradable plastics have the potential to be a great solution for our current plastic waste crisis. However, it is important that we understand their advantages and disadvantages in order to make sure they are employed responsibly. While these types of plastics offer an alternative to single-use items, it’s also essential that global legislation is put into place to protect both human health and our environment.

It’s estimated that if all current plastic were replaced with biodegradable alternatives, there would be enough space in landfills to reduce the amount of rubbish by 30%. This shows just how much of an impact this technology could have on reducing global pollution levels – something which should not be underestimated.

Ultimately, biodegradables can provide us with an efficient way of dealing with some of our most pressing environmental issues. We must ensure that we use them correctly and within legal regulations so as to benefit from their full potential.

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