Long gone are the days when petroleum derived plastics were the only option engineers had to make all kinds of products we use in our day-to-day lives. Let’s deep dive to know more about plastic with biodegradable qualities.
What is Biodegradable Plastic?
Biodegradable plastic is what it exactly sounds like. It is a variation of plastic that is biodegradable in nature. They are plastics degraded by carbon dioxide, water, and biomass under particular conditions. After years of manufacturing and research activities by companies worldwide, finally, there are versions of plastic that lessens our environment’s harm.
Unlike the general version of any plastic material, biodegradable plastic doesn’t borrow its properties from its raw material but from the polymer’s chemical arrangement.
Biodegradation of plastics is not a consistent process because of varying disposable conditions worldwide. Thus it can be done in a controlled degradation in an inherent environment or by enzyme-assisted mechanisms.
Types of Biodegradable Plastics –
The two main types of biodegradable plastics are – Oxo-biodegradable and Hydro-biodegradable.
For both plastics, biodegradation starts with oxidation and hydrolysis, followed by a biological process. Both of them release Carbon dioxide as they degrade. However, hydro-biodegradable can also vent methane.
Both types of plastics are compostable, but only the former can be recycled.
Differentiation: Oxo-biodegradable and Hydro-biodegradable Plastics –
|Created by mixing specific types of fatty compounds of certain metals with traditional plastics||
Created using bio-based sources like corn, wheat, sugarcane, and petroleum-based products. Both the methods can also be utilized simultaneously.
|Does not claim compostability standards according to ASTM D5988, ASTM D6954-04 standards test conducted by individual laboratories worldwide are 1. Smithers-RAPRA (US/UK) 2. Pyxis (UK), 3. Applus (Spain)||
Meets the standards perfectly – ASTM and D6400-04
|Carbon is transformed into carbon dioxide over a longer time period.||
Degradation and biodegradation are faster than OBP.
|Chemical degradation takes place within hydrolysis and oxidation||
Chemical degradation takes place within hydrolysis and oxidation
|degrades by oxidative chain scissoring, and metal salts will act as catalysts. Leading to the creation of shorter molecules||
Can emit both CO2 and methane during biodegradation
|Plastics comprising oxo-degradation additives will degrade and fragment in oxygen-rich environments||
Degradation only happens in a high-microbial environment
|Smaller fragments are lightweight and transmissive to biodegradation||
Contrary to OBP, hydro-biodegradable plastics can be composted.
Interesting Read – What is ABS Plastic | The Defintive Guide
Biodegradable Vs. Compostable –
Compostable and biodegradable plastics are terminologies used in a specific situation depending on how organic materials break down.
Both of them are eco-friendly and very critical in terms of how they’re used.
Telling them apart is easy; compostable plastics are biodegradable in composting situations, while other plastics degrade in landfills and glycolytic digesters.
Importantly, Compostable is always biodegradable Biodegradable is not always compostable.
Here are some biodegradable plastics:
- Cellulose-based plastics
- Starch-based plastics
- Soy-based plastics
- Natural fibers reinforcement plastic
- Lignin based plastics
Properties: Biodegradable Plastic
- High applicability
- Easy processing capabilities with conventional machining like injection molding and extrusion.
- Different fillers like clay, lime, wood paper, etc., in various sizes and colors, can be added depending on the application.
- Co-injection with materials like LDPE, HDPE, and PP can be done. A thin film of the plastic material will be placed on top of biodegradable plastic. It will result in producing the final product cheaper when compared to conventional methods.
- Energy Consumption:
Biodegradable plastics consume less energy during manufacturing. The initial investment might be high, but it is worth it as it will also reduce the server effects on the environment.
For example, corn-based polymer consumes 65% less energy compared to the same polymer made by petroleum.
Greenhouse gas emission is also significantly low compared to petroleum-based plastics.
- Reduced Waste Production:
Biodegradable plastic waste production is deficient to traditional polymers as they break down only in a few months.
Traditional plastics generate an estimated 32 million tons of trash annually. That number is jaw-dropping and can be significantly reduced by utilizing biodegradable materials.
Biodegradable material will be absorbed in the soil or transformed into compost, decreasing waste production by a large margin.
- Easy to Recycle:
The biodegradation of plastics improves their recyclability. They decompose quickly and can also be discarded using an organic process.
Having no chemicals and toxins within the composition makes them non-toxic. Recycling can reduce the landfill problem, and apart from that, the recycled bio-waste can also be utilized as compost.
- Reduction in CO2 Levels:
Since fossil fuels are not used in manufacturing biodegradable plastic products, they can help cut the global CO2 emission, increasing at an alarming rate. The CO2 emission of these plastics is meager compared to the conventional polymer and releases only the energy used to make it.
Reducing CO2 levels from all forms of nature is a must for humanity to create a bright future for our upcoming generations.
Presently, we’re producing more CO2 than ever before. The plastic processing industry does a major share of emissions, so switching to biodegradable and compostable plastics is the key to a pollution-free future.
Composting is criminally underrated. It comes with tons of benefits that we ignore, especially when associated with plastics.
Composting bioplastic products can make the soil fertile as these plastics are made using chemicals but from natural sources.
Increased soil fertility can help grow plants without artificial additives or fertilizers.
There wouldn’t be any drawbacks with biodegradable plastics(but we don’t live in a perfect world). So let’s go through some disadvantages of Biodegradable plastic.
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As we have discussed, these plastics are made from natural sources like corn and soybean. Thus, there’s an inherent risk of contamination by artificial fertilizers or pesticides sprayed on them while growing them.
The contamination can occur in the end-product, which is not a good scenario both for the supplier and consumer.
- It’s Expensive!:
Let’s take out the elephant from the room. Biodegradable plastics are costly. They need high-end industrial processers and composters to break down.
All the equipment heavy purchasing and processing of machinery can make a deep hole in your pocket.
- Need of Croplands:
There is a huge need for croplands to grow the natural material required to produce these plastics.
However, food production for human consumption is the priority for any country, not producing biodegradable plastics.
The governments can’t compromise food production as even today, millions are going hungry every day(even in the developed nations). It raises the ethical question of whether it is right to rely upon or expand this industry.
Biodegradable plastics are becoming common in our lives. Let’s look at some of its major applications.
- Consumer Electronics
- Aerospace and Automotive
Bioplastics are rapidly evolving in the packaging market. The packaging option includes packaging bags for horticulture products, agriculture products, compost, nursery products, food packaging, toys & textiles, etc.
Food packaging is the fastest-growing segment for biodegradable products as it improves the shelf life of the food and doesn’t harm the environment for our needs.
The “eco-friendly” part makes it easy for brands to connect with the end consumer as it is a moral duty.
Food packaging involves salad bowls, plates, disposable cups, clingfilm, and food containers. There have been some significant developments made to make utensils from biodegradable plastics, and soon we might see biodegradable utensils in the market.
#2 Consumer Electronics:
The electronics industry has come a long way in addressing the issues related to the environment. However, the electronics waste generated annually contributes greatly to polluting our landfills.
Recently, the electronics industry has realized its role in decreasing land pollution by building sustainable solutions for dumping waste problems.
Electrical casings, data storage devices, and circuit boards are now manufactured using bioplastics.
However, a complete switch might take some time as plant-based plastics heating temperatures are lower than traditional plastics, which causes temperature resistance problems for the electronics industry.
Biodegradable plastics are used in products like pins, screws, and tacks. Recently, biodegradable sutures have also made their way to hospitals and clinics for high-end surgeries.
Bioplastics are also used in dentistry as implants to fill holes created by removing teeth.
#4 Aerospace and Automotive:
Transportation is easily the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases in our environment. Both industries utilize plastics extensively for making different components for safety and performance.
Biopldegrable products can easily replace traditional plastics. The only hurdle will be a strong need for temperature resistance, which is crucial in the packaging industry, but things are more complicated. Thus the large-scale application is tough to achieve.
Top 10 Bioplastics Producers in the world –
Mater-Bi starch-based resins and the Matrica project
|Arkema||France||PA11 and PA10|
|Reverdia||France and Holland||Succinic acid|
Epicerol, biobased glycerol epichlorohydrin for bio-epoxy.
|NatureWorks||The United States and Thailand||PLA|
|Total Corbion||France and Netherlands||PLA|
|Sucinitty||Germany and Netherlands||Succinic acid|
The Future of Biodegradable Plastic –
On the surface, the future of biodegradable products seems bright and rosy, and I believe it is! But the reality is far from perfect. I’m not a pessimist; however, I like looking at the hard facts and then picturing a conclusion.
Research institutes and governments worldwide have taken necessary steps to make bioplastics mainstream, and quite frankly, the results are awe-inspiring. For example – Canada can ban single-use plastics by the year 2021. Many developed nations are said to follow.
The applications for bioplastics are increasing every day, and they’re reaching factories in every corner of the world.
So, the future seems good but can biodegradable plastics change the world?
I guess we all have to wait for that.
Fascinating Read – What is PLA Plastic (Polylactide)? | The Definitive Guide
1. Why are bioplastics not much in use?
Ans. There are various reasons behind bioplastics not becoming mainstream. The two most prominent reasons, in my opinion, are – 1. Biodegradable plastics produce methane gas while decomposition in landfills. 2. Biodegradable plastics don’t biodegrade readily and may take some time to biodegrade completely.
2. How do you dispose of biodegradable plastics?
Ans. The best way to dispose of biodegradable plastics is to send them to an industrial or commercial composting facility to break down the plastic with the right heat, microbes, and time. If that type of composting facility isn’t available nearby, the other option is to throw it in the trash.
3. At what temperature do bioplastics degrade?
Ans. The thermal degradation of bioplastics usually happens at approximately 250°C and reaches its maximum at 400°C.
4. Are bioplastics better than traditional plastics?
Ans. Bioplastics produce and emit substantially lower greenhouse emissions than traditional plastics over their lifetime. There is no net increase in the cabin dioxide when they break down because the plants are made up from absorbing that same amount of carbon dioxide as they grow.
5. Which country has the highest rate of plastic recycling?
Ans. The country with the highest rate of plastic recycling in Germany. Since the year 2016, they have taken plastic recycling waste very seriously, and now they’re they have reached a level where they are recycling about 56.1% of their annual plastic waste.
Suggested Read –
- What is Bakelite?: The Plastic That Changed the World
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- Plastics Vs. Polymers | What are the Differences?
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- What is Acetal? | Acetal Copolymer and Homopolymer | Acetal Applications | Advantages & Disadvantages of Acetal
- Mold Temperature in Plastics | A Complete Analysis
- Antistatic vs. Static Dissipative Plastics | Which One to Choose?
Final Thoughts –
Thus, were my thoughts and views on biodegradable plastic and how it will and can affect us. It’s a crucial factor for our environment to sustain. Completly replacing biodegradable plastics with our traditional plastic will take some time and lots of effort, but it’s doable.
I hope you liked my post. Kindly share your reviews in the comment box.