Biodegradable plastics are designed to break down and decompose over time. The idea is that they'll help reduce the amount of plastic waste in our oceans and landfills, but there's some debate about whether bioplastic really helps or not.
Biodegradable plastics are designed to break down and decompose over time. They can be made of all sorts of materials, but they all have the same basic structure: a backbone that’s made of long chains of molecules (called polymers) and other molecules attached to the backbone. The plastic isn't just one big molecule; it's a bunch of smaller ones linked together. These small parts are called monomers, and they're what allows bioplastics to break down over time.
When bioplastics reach the end of their lives, they start separating into their component parts—the monomers come apart from each other and recombine into new compounds that won’t cause any harm to the environment or animals who consume them. This process is called hydrolysis or degradation, depending on how quickly it happens in nature.
You might assume that biodegradable plastics are better for the environment than regular plastics, but this isn't always the case. While they can break down into microplastics, which have been found in everything from bottled water to sea salt, microplastic pollution is harmful to the environment. The particles are often ingested by fish and animals that mistake them for food or get trapped inside their bodies. Humans then consume these animals or drink water that contains microplastics.
Although biodegradable plastics may sound like an eco-friendly alternative to conventional plastic packaging, they may not be as safe as you think—and they certainly shouldn't be considered an excuse to use more disposable packaging!
Biodegradable plastics, unfortunately, don’t always act the way you want them to.
For example, biodegradable plastic bags have been known to break down into smaller pieces (rather than fully biodegrading). These fragments can then be mistaken for food by animals and ingested. While this isn’t toxic for humans who eat them as part of an overall balanced diet, there is concern that these microplastics may cause cancer when consumed by marine life over time.
Another problem with some biodegradable plastics is that they don't degrade well in cold temperatures—so they end up polluting places like Antarctica instead of breaking down naturally in our oceans where most plastic waste ends up accumulating anyway.
Biodegradable plastics are not always the answer to environmental concerns. Rather than breaking down into harmless byproducts, they can be broken down into microplastics, which are harmful to the environment.
Microplastics are small pieces of plastic that have been broken down from larger pieces, but still may not be visible to the naked eye. They’re found in many places around the world: water, soil and air; food and drinks; even in marine life and birds that ingest them unknowingly. Microplastics come from a wide range of sources including cosmetic products like face scrubs or toothpaste; industrial processes like oil drilling operations; car manufacturing plants; cleaning agents for textiles like washing machines (the wastewater from these processes contains microfibers).
Biodegradable plastics, like other kinds of plastics, can produce greenhouse gases when they decompose. This is a concern because it contributes to global warming—the very thing you're trying to solve by using bioplastics in the first place.
This means that while biodegradable plastics may be better for the environment than regular plastic (because they're easier on landfills), they're not necessarily a good solution to the world's plastic waste problem.
However, these bioplastics don't solve the problem of plastic pollution because they require fossil fuels to produce and transport them. While it may seem like a green alternative at first glance, it doesn't actually reduce our reliance on fossil fuels—instead it just shifts where we get them from (the ground) to plants grown for food production (which takes up land space).
So, what's the problem with biodegradable plastics? First off, they don’t break down as quickly as you might think. In fact, it could take hundreds of years for these plastics to degrade in the ocean or landfills.
Second, even if biodegradable plastics do break down within a short time frame (which has not been proven), they can still be harmful to wildlife and ecosystems. For example, if an animal eats a piece of plastic thinking it's food and dies from its ingestion—that is terrible! Biodegradable plastics should still be avoided because they require oil for their production—something we don't have enough of on this planet already.
It's clear that we still have a long way to go with biodegradable plastics. But what if we could use them to solve the plastic waste problem? Well, let's look at some other options for dealing with plastic pollution first. These include reducing our use of plastic products (and recycling those that we can't avoid), as well as finding better ways of disposing used plastics so they don't end up in landfills or oceans where they harm marine life.