Why haven't we made all plastics and paper biodegradable?

Posted by Lisa on December 15, 2022
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    What's the difference between biodegradable and compostable? If you're confused, you're not alone. Biodegradability is the natural breakdown of organic materials into carbon dioxide, water, and mineral nutrients (like nitrogen or phosphorus) by microorganisms. Compostability refers to the ability of a material to break down in a home compost pile over time. Biodegradable plastics are made from materials that can be broken down by microorganisms like bacteria and fungi into carbon dioxide, water and mineral nutrients within a reasonably short period of time. Compostable plastic is designed so it will decompose quickly under controlled circumstances—typically 180 days or less—in order to meet federal standards for municipal solid waste disposal in landfills that accept yard trimmings

    Biodegradable plastics aren't perfect

    Biodegradable plastics aren't perfect, and some people don't like them. That's because they're still made from oil, which isn't renewable. And while they do break down in landfills and composting bins, they take much longer than natural materials to decompose—which means that if you put a biodegradable plastic bag into a landfill or a composting bin today, it will probably still be there when you go back for lunch tomorrow!

    But there are other reasons why we haven’t adopted this solution wholesale. Some people don’t like the idea of getting rid of all plastics altogether. Biodegradable plastics also require more processing than regular plastic does—and that means more energy is used to make them as well as transport them around the world (since most biodegradable products are shipped from one country to another).

    Biodegradable paper isn't common

    Biodegradable paper is not common, and it isn't really feasible to make all paper biodegradable.

    Paper made from recycled materials is still technically not considered biodegradable, but it does break down into soil over time. Recycled paper can be used to make new paper or other things like corrugated boxes and egg cartons. Some recycled papers are also used as compost, which is useful if you have a garden or grow your own food.

    We have made some plastics biodegradable

    You might think that all biodegradable plastics are made from plant-based materials, but that's not the case. Some biodegradable plastics are actually made from oil, which is a non-renewable resource. This means that if we don't use them wisely, they will eventually run out. So why haven't we made all plastics and paper biodegradable?

    • We have to figure out how to make these products without using so much energy or water.
    • Scientists have found ways to make some plastics bio-plastic by adding new ingredients or redesigning their molecular structure. However, this isn't always possible because some companies don't want people knowing what goes into their products' production processes (so they can keep making money).

    It takes time to biodegrade things

    Have you ever wondered why we haven’t made all plastics and paper biodegradable? Well, it’s because it takes time for bacteria to break down the chemical bonds of the material. If a plastic bottle can take up to 500 years to decompose, imagine how long a ton of plastic would take! It might seem like this is a flaw in nature—after all, didn't humans invent technology so we could do things faster than our bodies alone could handle? But consider this: paper takes up to three months (or even a year) before it decomposes because there are many different types of bacteria that need time to break down the cellulose in trees. This process is called biodegradation and happens naturally on landfills when microbes get access to oxygen and water. In order for biodegradation processes like these ones happen naturally without any human intervention or help from machines such as composting machines then there needs be enough time between each stage which may require waiting several weeks or months depending on what type materials being used."

    We are making progress toward biodegradable products, but not all plastics and paper are biodegradable.

    While biodegradable plastics and paper are a step in the right direction, they're not perfect.

    • Biodegradable plastics are not as sturdy as traditional plastics, so they can't be used for everything. For example, if you want to use a biodegradable container to store food in your fridge or freezer, it probably won't last as long as a regular plastic container would. This means that biodegradable packaging isn't always cost effective compared with standard plastic packaging—and it may also lead consumers to think that all biodegradable materials are less durable than traditional alternatives.
    • Another issue is that some plants need specific types of bacteria to help them break down their waste products into usable nutrients for the plant's growth cycle (biological decay). If you put these plants' waste products into water or soil without these particular bacteria present (which many modern fertilizers do), then those substances won't break down at all! So even if we make all our disposable items out of bio-plastics or paper products; if nobody maintains healthy soil ecosystems then our oceans will continue their slow death spiral until there's no life left...


    We have a long way to go before all plastics and paper are biodegradable, but we’re making progress. We need the support of industries that make plastics and paper, policymakers who can help make it happen, and consumers who care about the environment. If you want to learn more about how our world is changing because of climate change or if you just want to read more articles like this one (they're good!), head over to our website where there are plenty more resources waiting for you!

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