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Biodegradable Plastic Bags: A Sustainable Future

Plastic bags that break down naturally through microbial action are considered biodegradable.

We need to start by comprehending the world of plastics and the issues surrounding it in order to comprehend what motivated the development of biodegradable plastics.

Plastics- Major Environmental Concern

Long-chained carbon polymers make up plastics. Plastics are highly resistant to microbial attack due to their synthetic makeup. This is another factor contributing to the non-biodegradability of plastics.

Plastics are used in practically every industry, which has led to growing concerns about their accumulation. Particularly discarded plastic bags have dramatically increased in the environment. Not only is the buildup of plastic bags unsightly and physically disturbing, but it also poses a severe environmental risk.

After use, a plastic bag used to carry your groceries would be immediately discarded. Mother Nature will eventually dispose of it (tear down the substance), but it may take decades!

Plastics disposal is difficult. They release poisonous gases when burned. Recycling is frequently not a practical choice either. This is due to the fact that recycling requires sorting out the many plastic types that go through various procedures.

The effects of environmental plastic pollution on the soil, vegetation, and wildlife are severe. Unreported plastic bag dumping is a significant contributor to soil and water contamination.

Additionally, tonnes of plastic bags that have been thrown away have had to be carried by the oceans. Environmentalists are concerned about the global decline of marine life and its effects on coral reefs.

Plastics are nevertheless required and used despite the numerous concerns.

Why?

That is due to the fact that they are just impossible to replace. Plastics are favoured by all industries due to their strength, durability, and adaptability.

Therefore, a good substitute would need to have both identical qualities and be environmentally sustainable.

Eco-friendly substitutes have been developed as a result of public and scientific pressure.

The growing concerns with plastics have given rise to a suitable solution in the form of biodegradable plastic bags.

The Alternatives Available

Finding environmentally appropriate substitutes has been a focus of research over the last few decades due to the enormous amounts of plastic that are making their way into the environment.

Plastics that are friendly to the environment can be broadly divided into three types:

Bioplastics

Bioplastics, as their name suggests, are constructed from easily biodegradable biological material. The goal is to replace plastic with a material that is more earth-friendly while retaining the outstanding qualities of plastic.

Bioplastics are mostly produced using a substance called corn starch. Different kinds of bioplastics, such as PLA (Poly Lactide Acid), are quite comparable to their petrochemical equivalents.

The food industry has had significant success using PLAs, which are being utilised to create food packaging and other items. The ability to be composted is another benefit of PLAs. Simply placing them in the compost bin will cause them to decompose. Within a few weeks, a lot of bioplastics can disintegrate into smaller pieces!

Biodegradables

You have probably noticed the labelled plastic bags that are now commonplace in stores. "Biodegradable plastic bags," "photodegradable," or "oxo-biodegradable plastic bags" are frequently printed on the packaging.

How are they different from bioplastics and what do they consist of?

Plastics that decompose in the presence of oxygen and light are considered biodegradable. They share the same chemical properties as their conventional petrochemical relatives. They only use specific pro-oxidant chemicals, which speed up their breakdown under the correct circumstances.

The most popular substitutes for conventional plastic bags are biodegradable bags. However, some issues with how they decompose have caused concern in the ecological communities.

Biodegradable plastic bag anaerobic digestion rarely occurs as predicted theoretically in landfills or even in the oceans. The breakdown is unsuccessful when the proper levels of heat, light, and oxygen are not present.

Smaller plastic shards from the incomplete breakdown of biodegradable plastic bags pose a risk to both marine and wild species.

Recycled Plastics

The simplest solution to the plastic problem has been to recycle old plastics into new ones. Today, recycled plastics are utilised to make a variety of products, including gates, outdoor furniture, and other items.

However, recycling has certain issues of its own. Recycling requires source segregation, which is not always practical.

Different polymers may differ in their molecular makeup. This implies that they also have various recycling processes. For instance, a distinct method may be required for plastic bags compared to plastic bottles and packaging materials.

Recycled plastics are also inferior in quality and cannot be used to make their parent items. This raises questions about the use of recycled plastic bags in the food and hospitality industries.

Effectiveness of Biodegradable Plastic Bags

Let's continue now that we have a better understanding of the main categories of environmentally friendly plastics in use today.

It seems like bioplastics are the victors. Actually not at all. The picture isn't as happy when you take into account that they are made of agricultural products. The food industry and food prices worldwide may be dramatically impacted by using agricultural land for the production of biofuels!

Thus, biodegradable plastic bags are becoming more and more commonplace in commerce.

Hydroplastics and photoelastic are two other types of biodegradable polymers. Environmental concerns arise from an incomplete breakdown that is caused by inadequate water or light conditions.

The best biodegradable plastic bags, in terms of natural decomposition and minimal environmental impact, are undoubtedly those made by Oxo.

The composition of Oxo's biodegradable shopping bags is comparable to that of conventional petrochemical plastics. They do, however, contain a minor quantity of "pro degradant." Even though the step seems tiny, it completely alters how plastic material behaves.

The polymers of polyethene and polypropylene are re-engineered by the additions to make them biodegradable. Thus, the life cycle of these biodegradable plastic bags is constrained. The oxidation process begins after the designed life is finished, and is followed by degradation.

The manufacturing process's additive causes the molecular structure of the plastics to degrade to a point where bacteria can take control.

The substance is completely decomposed by the microbes, resulting in the production of CO2, water, and organic matter. a circumstance that Mother Nature can easily regulate.

Plastic bags made of oxybiodegradable materials can also be recycled the old-fashioned way. It is simple to address the worries about the accumulation of enormous amounts of waste. The environmentally friendly plastic bags either are recycled using the standard methods or break down naturally in the environment.

Interesting figures for Biodegradable Plastics

Here are some noteworthy statistics and initiatives related to biodegradable plastics and bioplastics:

  • Global bioplastic production rose up to 1.5 million tonnes in 2011 from a meagre 262,000 tonnes in 2007. It grew up to 2.11 million tonnes in 2018 and is predicted to go up to 2.62 million tonnes in 2023.

  • In 2015, bioplastics and biodegradable plastics account for 1% of the share of total plastic production globally. It is expected that the figure will rise to around 2.5% by the year 2020.

  • Packaging is the largest application of bioplastics and takes up around 65% of the total production.

  • New fibres like PEF (Polyethylene furoate) which are 100% bio-based are predicted to enter the global markets by the year 2023. The fibre comes with superior properties like heat resistance and is hence being eyed with interest by the food and packaging industry.

A sustainable future

Plastics have many uses, which cannot be disputed, but it is also true that the "green planet" is having trouble breathing.

The piles of plastic bags have been progressively getting bigger. Biodegradable plastic bags are the only viable substitute that science has discovered. They can significantly reduce the number of pollutants in the air thanks to their quick and natural decomposition abilities.

However, biodegradable plastic bags cannot resolve the issue on their own. It is necessary to dispose of them in accordance with the rules. Additionally, without a shift in customer behaviour, no transition is feasible. We must all share in the burden of working for a sustainable future.


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