Plastics are the materials that pollute the environment the most today. They are issued in large numbers and have various uses. People are becoming aware of the importance of caring for the environment, but not enough. With this purpose of protecting nature, the idea of biodegradable plastics. These plastics could be the solution to the great world crisis of contamination by this material. However, it is necessary to know well what their limitations are and why it is not so easy to establish these plastics in all the containers in the world.
In this article we are going to tell you all the characteristics and importance of biodegradable plastics.
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What are biodegradable plastics
The first thing of all is to know what the word biodegradable means. Biodegradability is the decomposition title by which some products and substances disintegrate thanks to the action of certain biological organisms. Among the biological organisms that can degrade materials we have bacteria, fungi, algae, insects, etc. Normally these living organisms use substances to generate energy and other compounds such as tissues, organisms and amino acids. So that a plastic can biodegrade some conditions of light, humidity, temperature, oxygen, must be met, etc. Favorable so that it can happen in a relatively short period of time.
Nor does a type of plastic that can degrade on its own but take too long, since in the end we would be having the same problem of waste accumulation. We can say that it is a biodegradable product when it can be disintegrated by the action of the environment and by the biological organisms that inhabit ecosystems. There are several types of biodegradation depending on the presence or absence of oxygen. On the one hand, we have the aerobic biodegradation that occurs where there is oxygen in the open air. On the other hand, we have anaerobic biodegradation that takes place in areas without oxygen. In the second, biogas is produced, which is a greenhouse gas that increases global warming, but can also be used to produce energy.
Biodegradability and ecology
Biodegradability is usually related to ecology and to the damage that plastics produce in nature. We know that plastics take hundreds of years to decompose and it also depends on their composition. The composition and decomposition time is an important aspect to take into account in order to determine the degree of biodegradability. We can see that a banana peel only takes about 2-10 days to degrade. The paper will take around 2-5 months, depending on its texture and composition. These products are much easier to degrade than packaging that includes plastic and paper even though the plastic is biodegradable.
We can say that biodegradable plastics are those that are made with various raw materials that are completely renewable. These raw materials are wheat, corn, cornstarch, potatoes, bananas, soybean oil or cassava. Given the way of production itself, plastics are biodegraded by microorganisms. This means that it can be reintroduced into the natural cycle in the form of organic fertilizer beneficial to the soil. We are not only getting a material that does not pollute, but is also beneficial for the environment. Degradation time is much less than conventional plastics.
Problems with biodegradable plastics
Although all this seems too beautiful and is the solution to all problems, this is not the case. Although natural raw materials that can be resorbed by nature are used, biodegradable plastics present some problems. Let's see what these problems are:
- The labeling of these plastics it does not specify that its use can reduce pollution in rivers and seas. And it is that the conditions that these plastics need to have a complete decomposition can occur in the seas and oceans. That is, if they end up in these places, they can take centuries to decompose since the microorganisms in charge of decomposition do not find enough oxygen to carry out their task.
- Although it takes less time to degrade in natural environments can take about 3 years. For example, if we analyze the decomposition of some conventional pleased diapers we see that it takes about 350 years to degrade, while those made with biodegradable plastics can take between 3-6 years.
- When it comes to recycling it can be a problem. Its recycling is quite complex. And is that to be biodegradable can not be mixed with conventional plastics. This means that a different recycling strategy is required for these products.
- We must bear in mind that the production of biodegradable plastics are generated from food sources. This means that although they are biodegradable in a short period of time, a large area of land is needed to be able to grow all the products for their manufacture. In addition, for the crop, fertilizer and water are needed, which can increase overexploitation and deforestation of natural ecosystems.
- Specific conditions: These are conditions that are needed, as is the case with industrial composting plants. It is difficult to maintain these conditions for large-scale plastic production.
- The elaboration of renewable sources does not reduce the use of harmful chemicals or additives so that they can have a texture and a suitable use.
Finally, we are going to see what are the two main types of biodegradable plastics that exist:
- Bioplastics: are those that are obtained from renewable raw materials.
- Plastics made with biodegradable additives: they are this type of plastics that are not produced as renewable raw material in their entirety, but are also made up of some partial compounds made up of petrochemicals that improve their biodegradation.
Some examples of the usefulness that both types of biodegradable plastics can have are the following:
- Wrapper: are those made of biodegradable plastics and are used for food packaging. It takes much less time to break down than traditional plastic and helps reduce pollution.
- Agricultural sector: can be mixed with seed coat and mulch to produce ground cover.
- Medicine: They are another option for the manufacture of some products that are intended for medicine. Among them we have the degradable capsules that can be degraded inside the human body.
I hope that with this information you can learn more about biodegradable plastics and their characteristics.