Every day we are more aware of the pollution and environmental impacts of the waste we generate daily. With the aim of reducing the contamination of this waste, biodegradable products emerged a few years ago. However, the use of biodegradable plastics is not the environmental solution that many believe, as it may help on certain occasions but it does not solve the great global garbage problem that we have. In this AgroCorrn article we explain how long it takes for biodegradable plastic to degrade and more details related to these products.
- What is the process of degradation of plastic
- What is biodegradable plastic and what is it for?
- How long it takes for biodegradable and normal plastic to degrade
What is the plastic degradation process
Plastic is a widely used material around the world, but also one of the longest to decompose. Plastic is a petroleum-derived polymer that is molded at high pressures and temperatures. Oil is a material that degrades at very high temperatures (specifically at 286ºC) and that generates many pollutants, in addition to the difficulty of transport, so its incineration is not viable in most countries.
The degradation of this material is a process that changes its structure and characteristics, making it more vulnerable. The degradation of the oil is between 100 to 1,000 years old , depending on the size and composition of the package, in which large amounts of pollutants emitted into the environment. Many of these materials are dumped into the environment indiscriminately and harm thousands of species, actually the entire planet.
What is biodegradable plastic and what is it for?
The biodegradable plastics or bioplastics are plastics that are made using organic raw materials obtained from renewable or waste daily as banana, cassava, cellulose, legumes, polysaccharides, soybean oil or potato starch. These materials, being organic waste, can be degraded by microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi. The benefit obtained from this more biological decomposition is that products such as carbon dioxide (both beneficial and harmful to the environment), water and, in addition, other biomaterials are generated, serving as organic fertilizer for the soil. In addition, the degradation times of the plastic are also reduced. It is also important to say that, currently, many plastics sold as biodegradable are not necessarily composed of organic materials, but of oil like conventional ones.
It is also worth knowing in which cases it is really useful and some examples of what biodegradable plastic is for :
- Bioplastic Wrappers: These wrappers can break down faster than conventional ones.
- Agriculture: This plastic can be mixed in the soil with layers of mulch and seed (it also has drawbacks, as we will see).
- Medicine: this plastic can be useful for the manufacture of absorbable sutures, micro-devices or capsules that degrade inside the body.
How long it takes for biodegradable and normal plastic to degrade
The truth is that a plastic bag, even if it is biodegradable, also takes time to degrade. Compared to the time it takes for conventional ones, biodegradable ones (as we said, not all of those that claim to be so are) begin to degrade around 18 months (that is why they have a manufacturing date) up to a period of between 1 year and a half to 3 years , which is really not a short time.
Even this degradation process is not easy, since they need special conditions, specifically the conditions must be specific in terms of microorganisms, temperature and humidity and when they are buried they can emit greenhouse gases and be more harmful to the environment than a conventional plastic.
An example, diapers made with conventional plastic can take between 300 and 400 years to degrade, since they have been made with materials derived from petroleum, while diapers made with biodegradable materials are better, but take between 3 and 6 years, which It is also time that they spend polluting the environment, although it must also be taken into account that more organisms feed on these materials than on conventional plastics.
Find out more about how long it takes for waste to degrade in this other AgroCorrn article.
The biodegradability of plastic is highly dependent on environmental conditions (the human body acts differently than the earth in that sense). So it doesn’t make much sense to make a product like biodegradable plastic bags easier to break down, when that is not really going to solve the global waste problem . What should be done is to complement it with solutions to reduce global waste .
These biodegradable plastics are useful and also very interesting for further research, but they can only be used when they are of specific benefit. To solve the garbage problem and really help the environment , the best solution is to save energy and improve recycling processes, reuse plastic materials or reuse cloth and cardboard or paper bags .
Here are some tips to reduce the use of plastics and packaging .
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