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We’re all familiar with the fact that it can take plastic hundreds of years to break down. We were taught this useful tidbit in school and promptly let it pass in one ear and out the other, then proceeded on with our lives. After all, if we truly considered the fact that the mountains of plastic waste we create take hundreds of years to break down, we would have ditched plastic years ago. But, for most people, it’s just easier not to think about it.

Sadly, this complacency has only added fuel to the metaphorical plastic fire. There are currently 270,000 tons of plastic floating on the surface of the world’s oceans. The overwhelming presence of this pollution puts over 700 species of marine animals in danger of extinction. And the worst part is that this problem gets worse every single day.

In response to our ever growing plastic problem, scientists started to develop “biodegradable” plastic alternatives. This game-changing material offers all the convenience and versatility of plastic, but without the environmental implications. Unlike standard plastics, biodegradable plastic is meant to break down in a timely manner, turning plastic bags into tiny plastic dust in a matter of months.

Well, at least it is “meant” to do this.

A new study in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology from researchers at the University of Michigan found that biodegradable plastic takes just as long to break down as regular plastic. Oh, awkward.

To make plastic “biodegradable” manufacturers add compounds that are meant to speed up the chemical dissolution process. However, when Michigan researchers tracked to the rates at which plastic polymers broke down when mixed with five of such compounds, they saw no indication of an increase in the material’s biodegradability.

Major bummer.

While we have an answer to the age-old question, “Which plastic is a good plastic?” (The answer being: none.), we certainly do not have a solution our plastic problem.

Luckily, we can all help to reduce plastic waste by trying to live as waste-free as possible. The prospect can seem daunting at first, but there are many ways you can avoid plastic in every aspect of your life; all you have to do is try.

To help you navigate the wild world of life without plastic, check out this article. Once you ditch plastic, you’ll never go back. We promise.

Let’s #CrushPlastic! Click the graphic below for more information.


Image source: Lucyin/Wikimedia Commons

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0 comments on “This is Awkward… Biodegradable Plastics Are Not so ‘Biodegradable’ After All”

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Teresa Clark
3 Years Ago

This study was done with good intentions, unfortunately as Leslie has pointed out – good intentions are not the same as scientific validity. The most prominent issue with the test was the lack of natural microbial diversity that would be found in a landfill or other waste environment. The test was a great representation as to what would happen with those specific plastics in manure piles.
Let’s not take one test and make general assumptions to which the test does not apply. There are many different types of plastics, some made of fossil fuel, some made of plants, some made in nature, some biodegradable, some not. There are also different types of additives, some allow natural micro-organisms to convert plastic into soil/air/water and others that simple turn plastic into small pieces (plastic dust).
If you really want to understand the topic of biodegradable plastics and the environmental impact of different types of plastic, reach out to ENSO Plastics. They focus specifically on this subject.
In the meantime, we should all focus on reducing waste and consumption of all materials – including plastic, paper, food and glass.

Leslie Harty
3 Years Ago

First of all, let me tell everyone who read the study done at this University, that they did NOT follow proper protocalls and their conclusions are flawed. When testing one has to use certain mediums to test the product in. Here in the US, most plastics are tested following protocalls of the ASTM group. They did not do so. They put the plastics in aged manure when they tested which is a far cry from anything one would find in a landfill. They did not verify their testing methods. Do not accept their results. Go to the ASTM and one can see the proper inoculum. This was not done in a proper laboratory and was not supervised by any experts in microbiology or chemistry. Plastic films that have passed ASTM 5511 and 5526 are landfill degradable. Take that to the bank and ignore testing that was not properly done.


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