Is biodegradable plastic good for the environment? (5 types of bioplastics).

This blog article shall answer the question, “is biodegradable plastic good for the environment?”. 

It shall also cover other areas such as:

  • Types of bioplastics.
  • Comparison between bioplastics and petrochemical plastics.
  • Biodegradation of bioplastics.
  • Eco-friendliness of bioplastics.

Is biodegradable plastic good for the environment?

Yes, biodegradable plastic is good for the environment as compared to those plastics derived from petrochemicals.

Any biodegradable material is good for the environment, although the rate of biodegradability differs with each material.

Some materials, such as 100% natural organic material are completely biodegradable while semi-synthetic materials are partially biodegradable.

Petrochemicals and other crude oil products are non-biodegradable and therefore pose a serious threat to the environment.

Biodegradation is the breakdown of organic and semi-organic matter by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi for energy.

Different microorganisms use different chemicals to survive and therefore, different organic materials are degraded by different microorganisms.

What are bioplastics?

These are plastic materials produced from renewable organic matter.

They are derived from plant and animal sources such as vegetable fats and oils, maize starch, sawdust, woodchips, and food wastes.

Some are obtained from cellulose, chitosan, and alginate.

Others are produced from proteins such as gelatin, gluten, and soy proteins.

Starch-based plastics.

These are thermoplastics made from starch.

They are the most widely used bioplastics.

The properties of these types of plastics are highly dependent on their chemical structure, particularly the ratio of amylose and amylopectin.

Since pure starch plastic is brittle, it is hardened by adding plasticizers such as glycol, glycerol, or sorbitol.

The plastics are produced based on their purpose, the concentration of additives added to harden them is determined by the purpose of the plastic.

Properties of starch-based bioplastics.

The following are the properties of starch plastics.

  • Have high thermal stability.
  • High moisture resistance.
  • Impermeable to gas penetration.
  • They are biodegradable.

Uses of starch-based plastics.

The following are the uses of starch-based plastics.

  • In the packaging of magazine wrappings.
  • Packaging of bubble films.
  • Used as fruit packaging bags.
  • Used as vegetable packaging bags.
  • Used in making papers.

Cellulose-based plastics.

These are bioplastics obtained from cellulose esters such as cellulose acetate and nitrocellulose.

Cellulose is converted to thermoplastics by extensive modification.

Cellulose-based plastics are not very common; cellulose acetate and nitrocellulose are very expensive to acquire.

It is however added to starch-based plastic to improve its properties such as permeability to gas and water resistance.

Polylactic acid (PLA) plastics.

These are plastics produced from maize starch dextrose.

Properties.

Its properties include.

  • It is biodegradable.
  • It has low tensile strength.
  • Low thermal resistance.
  • It has high gas permeability.

Uses.

Its uses are as follows.

  • Making plastic cups.
  • Making plastic containers.
  • Making plastic bottles.
  • Making films.

Poly-3-hydroxybutyrate plastics.

This is a bioplastic produced from glucose and maize starch through fermentation by bacteria.

Properties.

The following are its properties.

  • High tensile strength.
  • Resistant to organic solvents.
  • Resistant to heat.
  • It is biodegradation.

Uses.

Poly-3-hydroxybutyrate is used in the following ways.

  • Making plastic bottles.
  • In making plastic films.
  • Making plastic bags

Polyhydroxy-alkanoate plastic.

This is a bioplastic produced in nature by bacteria when they ferment sugar or lipids.

The properties of polyhydroxy-alkanoate are determined by the polymers used to make it.

Properties.

The properties of polyhydroxy-alkanoate include the following.

  • It is less elastic than other bioplastics.
  • It is less ductile than other bioplastics.
  • It is biodegradable.
  • It is optically active.
  • It is biocompatible.
  • It is highly porous.
  • It is immunotolerant.
  • It has low toxicity.

Uses of polyhydroxy-alkanoate plastic.

Polyhydroxy-alkanoate plastics are mainly used in medicine for the following purposes.

  • To make artificial kidney membranes.
  • To make wound grafts.
  • To make bio-absorbable sutures.
  • To make 3D medical structures.

Lipid-derived plastics.

These are bioplastics that have been synthesized from plants and animal fats and oils.

They include the following plastics.

Polyamide 11 plastics.

This is a bioplastic derived from natural animal oil.

Properties.

The following are the properties of polyamide 11 plastics.

  • It has a high thermal resistance.
  • It is resistant to water permeability.
  • It has a relatively high tensile strength.
  • It is resistant to abrasions.
  • It is partially biodegradable.
Uses of polyamide 11 plastics.

Polyamide 11 plastics are used in:

  • Making automotive fuel lines.
  • Making flexible oil and gas pipes.
  • Making control fluid umbilicals.
  • Making sports shoes.
  • Making electronic components.
  • Making medical catheters.
  • Making pneumatic air-brake tubing
  • Making electrical cable anti-termite sheathing.

Polybutylene succinate plastic.

This is a thermoplastic bioplastic derived from fats and oils.

It contains similar properties to petrochemical-based polypropylene plastic.

Properties of polybutylene succinate plastic.

The following are the properties of polybutylene succinate plastic.

  • It is biodegradable.
  • It is resistant to chemicals.
  • It is heat resistant.
  • It has good tensile strength.
Uses of polybutylene succinate plastic.

The following are the uses of polybutylene succinate plastic.

  • In making films.
  • In making bags and boxes for storage.
  • In making tableware.
  • Making mulching films.
  • Making fishing nets.
  • In making biodegradable drug encapsulating systems.
  • Making media for implants.

Advantages of using bioplastics.

The use of bioplastics has a plethora of advantages over petrochemical plastics.

The advantages of using bioplastics include.

  • They contain less carbon and hence low environmental pollution.
  • They have reduced overreliance on petrochemical plastics.
  • They have a fast rate of biodegradation.
  • They are less toxic as compared to inorganic plastics. They do not have bisphenol A and antimony-trioxide which are found on petrochemical plastics and are toxic to humans.
  • They are recyclable.
  • Their production consumes less energy as compared to traditional plastics.
  • They do not lead to land mining and land derelict since no mining is required.
  • They do not leach chemicals into food, soil, or water.

Disadvantages of using bioplastics.

The following are the disadvantages of using bioplastics.

  • They are not as durable as petrochemical plastics since they are broken down by bacteria and fungi.
  • Their resistance to chemicals and solvents is very low.
  • They are less flexible and elastic.
  • They encourage littering since users already know they will decompose on their own.
  • People will embark on large-scale plantations of plants to produce bioplastics, instead of food crops, and this will increase the food crisis.
  • When dumped in the landfills, they can cause land pollution.
  • According to an article, some bioplastics have more carbon toxicity than petrochemical plastics.

What is biodegradation of bioplastics?

This is the biological breakdown of bioplastics living organisms such as bacteria and fungi.

The main purpose of biodegradation by the microorganisms is for the microorganisms to get carbon, methane, and biomass which they use for their survival.

The products of biodegradation will depend on the chemical structure of bioplastics or the type of microorganism used for biodegradation.

Bioplastics obtained from 100% natural matter are completely broken down by microorganisms.

Some bioplastics are made by blending organic material with petrochemicals, these results in a semi-bioplastic product.

Semi-bioplastic substances will undergo partial degradation by microorganisms.

Biodegradation and eco-friendliness.

Biodegradation results in small non-toxic particles which are assimilated by fungi and bacteria.

The gases produced by biodegradation, methane, and carbon dioxide are also used by microorganisms for respiration.

Biodegradable substances are therefore eco-friendly since they are broken down into small non-toxic substances.

Non-biodegradable substances result in water, soil, and air pollution and this results in environmental toxicity.

The future of plastic biodegradation.

Dr. Nii Korley Kortei, head of the department of nutrition and dietetics at the University of Health and Allied Sciences in Ghana, intimates that genetically modified organisms can be engineered to degrade petrochemical plastics.

He says that a bacterium, Ideonella sakaiensis, which was discovered at Kyoto university produces an enzyme that can digest non-biodegradable plastics.

In a paper that he co-authored with Dr. Lydia Quansah, a lecturer at Ghana’s University of Development Studies states that;  the gene of the bacteria can be isolated and incorporated into other bacteria and fungal species to increase biodegradation.

Conclusion.

This blog has answered the importance of biodegradable plastics to our environment.

It has also covered other areas such as:

  • Different types of bioplastics.
  • The pros and cons of bioplastics.
  • The biodegradability and eco-friendliness of bioplastics.
  • The future of plastic biodegradation.

Did you enjoy reading the article? Please leave your comments or questions in the section provided below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Is biodegradable plastic good for the environment?

Is biodegradable plastic good for the environment?

Yes, biodegradable plastic is good for the environment because it reduces its toxicity in the environment.

How does biodegradable plastic help the environment?

Biodegradable plastic helps the environment by being broken down and hence reducing the harmful, toxic substances in the environment.

What are the disadvantages of biodegradable plastics?

Disadvantages of biodegradable plastics include.

  • They are not durable.
  • They are less flexible.
  • They are less resistant to chemicals.
  • They encourage littering.

Citations.

Pellis, Alessandro; Malinconico, Mario; Guarneri, Alice; Gardossi, Lucia (2021-01-25). “Renewable polymers and plastics: Performance beyond the green”. New Biotechnology. 60: 146–158. doi:10.1016/j.nbt.2020.10.003.

Arifa Shafqat, Arifa Tahil, Nabil Al-zaqro, Ali Alsalme. ( March 2021). Synthesis and characterization of starch-based bioplastics using varying plant-based ingredients, plasticizers, and natural fillers. Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences. 1739-1749.

Retrieved from:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1319562X20306707#!

Indu. S.K, Ghanshyams. S, Akesh. T. ( 10 July 2020). New and Future Developments in Microbial Biotechnology and Bioengineering: Fungal Degradation of Bioplastics; An overview. 35-47.

Retrieved from:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128210079000048#:~:text=Bioplastics%20are%20a%20special%20type,serious%20environmental%20and%20social%20problems.

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