Biodegradable plastics have become more appealing in recent years as traditional consumer plastic products continue to choke landfills, negatively impacting the surrounding environment. Biodegradable plastics take between three and six months to decompose, which is a significant improvement over the hundreds of years most traditional plastics need. Biodegradable plastics are still in development and the current commercially available grades are far from perfect. Despite any drawbacks, scientists continue to develop and refine bioplastics because the potential benefits are hard to deny. These benefits include include a reduction in oil consumption, cleaner communities and an increase in plastic exports.
Lower Petroleum Consumption
Oil is one of the main ingredients in traditional plastic materials. Petroleum consumption is considered harmful to the environment, given the amount of waste produced during the refinement process and the harmful methods used to extract oil from the earth. According to Green Energy News, biodegradable plastics are made from sources such corn, hemp and even chicken feathers, eliminating petroleum in plastic manufacturing. (A note on terminology here: most biodegradable plastics are also bioplastics, meaning they are at least partially made from organic materials like those listed above. However, not all bioplastics are biodegradable.) While the idea of using natural materials to create plastics is appealing, there are many potential drawbacks, including higher cost, poor technical capabilities, and the environmental impact of growing the organic materials used in bioplastics
Cleaner Urban & Rural Environments
Petroleum-based plastics do not decompose in an eco-friendly manner, which can leave waste products scattered throughout communities. This is a problem in urban and rural areas alike, because plastic waste creates everything from eyesores to health hazards. The problem of plastic waste is especially bad in areas with poorly designed recycling infrastructures. Theoretically, the use of biodegradable plastics could eliminate this problem. However, this solution would still need to be met with improved waste management. The average American throws away 185 pounds of plastic per year and 50% of all plastics are single use, meaning they are used just once and then thrown away. Even with biodegradable plastics, our cities still need better recycling and waste management programs.
Even though landfills are a necessity, the less waste humans dump or store in them the better for everyone in society. Fortunately, biodegradable plastics decompose over time, reducing the amount of total waste in landfills. On the other hand, petroleum-based plastics do not breakdown quickly, resulting in landfills that only grow larger with time. When petroleum-based plastics do start to degrade, it can lead to potentially toxic chemicals infiltrating water supplies, given that petroleum-based plastics degrade in a harmful way. Biodegradable plastics result in better outcomes, since they integrate back into the environment more cleanly.
Higher Plastic Exports
Engineering and producing biodegradable plastics is a complicated process, requiring qualified scientists and expensive equipment to generate a profit. Also, the process is often more expensive than traditional plastic manufacturing, which is detrimental to businesses in emerging markets. Manufacturers sophisticated enough to make biodegradable plastics could export their advanced products throughout the world, benefiting financial stakeholders and the environment at the same time.
Better Business Practices
Though not completely safe, biodegradable plastics are viewed as a sustainable business practice by CEOs and consumers alike. Companies adopting biodegradable plastics are often seen by consumers as being preferable to companies that are not earth-conscious, which can benefit employees and shareholders who stand to gain from higher corporate profits. Many consumer packaged goods companies, including Poland Spring, have already experimented with dramatically cutting down the amount of plastic used in their packaging. This effort saves money on excess material while also reducing waste and even improving brand image. Coca Cola has already developed a bioplastic bottle. Are biodegradable plastics the future in this industry?
Even though biodegradable plastics are not 100 percent environmentally friendly, they are a step forward in the path to greater sustainability in manufacturing. Biodegradable plastics have the potential to reduce the private sector’s dependence on oil and find use in a variety of industries, making them relevant to manufacturers all over of the world.
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