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As the plastic Pollution problem continues to grow, many are turning to biodegradable alternatives in the hopes of a greener solution. However, recent research suggests that these “environmentally friendly” plastics might not be as green as they seem.
Biodegradable plastics, also known as bioplastics, are created from natural materials like cornstarch and sugarcane, seemingly providing a solution to the growing plastic Pollution problem. They are increasingly popular, even among big corporations like Coca-Cola, which recently introduced a “100% plant-based” bioplastic bottle.
However, these materials do not decompose as readily as we might think, particularly in marine environments. Contrary to popular belief, terms like ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable‘ do not imply that these items will naturally decompose in any environment. Rather, they require very specific conditions—often achievable only in industrial composting facilities—to break down.
The home composting setups many of us use lack the necessary conditions to break down these materials. Furthermore, the term ‘biodegradable’ doesn’t take into account the variety of environments a piece of trash may end up in. While something might break down in a forest, it may not fare the same way in the ocean.
A recent study from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography highlighted this issue. Lead researcher Sarah-Jeanne Royer pointed out that many consumers unknowingly contribute to this problem. While biodegradable plastics may seem like a green choice, they can end up in ecosystems and eventually oceans if not disposed of properly.
The study specifically examined the breakdown of polylactic acid (PLA), a popular bioplastic used in textiles and everyday items. The results were disconcerting: PLA, despite being marketed as ‘compostable’, showed no signs of breaking down in marine environments.
As of now, only about 27 percent of Americans have access to industrial composting facilities, making proper disposal of bioplastics a significant challenge. The only long-term solution, Royer suggests, is to reduce our reliance on single-use items, irrespective of whether they are made from traditional plastic or bioplastics.
In conclusion, while biodegradable plastics might seem like a step in the right direction, they are far from the perfect solution. So, let’s be more conscious of our choices and strive to reduce our dependence on single-use items. This World Refill Day, why not make a small change and switch to reusable items? Together, we can help mitigate the plastic Pollution crisis.
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