Are Biodegradable Plastics Good for the Environment?

Are Biodegradable Plastics Good for the Environment?

With the amount of waste generated by consumers and businesses is growing every year. According to Annenberg Learner, the U.S. generates 230 million tons of garbage every year — or about 4.6 pounds of trash per person, per day. This astounding figure has led to consumers and businesses alike looking for ways to reduce or eliminate the amount of trash they generate. Enter biodegradable plastics — a revolutionary product that is just as safe for the environment as paper — right? Wrong.

What is Biodegradable Plastic?

The Balance Small Business says that it takes about 450 years for traditional plastic to decompose. With this realization, individuals and companies began to seek reusable glass, stainless steel, and paper products to replace plastic. Comparatively, it takes just two to six weeks for paper products to decompose, making it highly appealing for individuals and businesses who want to reduce their carbon footprint.

With the plastic industry under threat as people began to move away from their products, a “biodegradable” plastic was created. Made with more natural materials instead of petrochemicals, these products seemed to be as environmentally friendly as paper — a misconception the plastics industry wasn’t too keen to correct.

Is It Better for the Environment?

According to a UN report, biodegradable plastics need certain conditions to break down, including temperatures above 120 degrees F, which are not often found in nature, particularly oceans. The same report suggested that these types of plastics can take up to five years to break down. It may be a far cry from 450 years, however, five years in an ocean gives them the opportunity to be consumed by marine animals and leach harmful chemicals into the water, all while more of the same is being dumped. This creates a perpetually destructive cycle, all the while biodegradable plastic is being marketed as less harmful to the environment than traditional plastic.

What to Use Instead

Paper products will always be superior to plastics when it comes to biodegradability and environmental friendliness. In just two to six weeks, paper is broken down and absorbed into the environment, without leaving harmful chemicals behind. Businesses can make the switch to paper plates, bowls and cups, takeout containers, and trays to reduce their trash contribution to the environment, and individuals can do the same by supporting businesses who offer paper products instead of plastic.

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