In this article, various applications of biodegradable plastics will be discussed. Other covered topics would be:
- What is biodegradability?
- Why is biodegradability important?
- What are non-biodegradable plastics?
- What are the impacts of non-biodegradable plastics?
- What are biodegradable plastics?
- What are the applications of biodegradable plastics?
What are the applications of biodegradable plastic?
Biodegradable plastics are beneficial to both humans and the environment. Biodegradable plastics are made from plant-based materials like sugarcane, sugar beets or corn starch.
Although, the effects of bioplastics on the environment are open to scientific scrutiny as some factors make it subtly equivocal. However, the utilitarian aspect of bioplastics is as blunt as the impacts of non-biodegradable plastics.
Biodegradable plastics are used in many applications such as accessories, food stuff and medical implants. The global market is expected to have crossed the 40 billion dollars threshold.
What is biodegradability?
Biodegradability is a process through which complex materials are broken down into simple materials by the action of microbes. These microbes can be bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa, and even yeast.
The process of biodegradability can be called a natural dustbin because it is nature’s way to ensure that there is no waste accumulation in the environment. It is coded in the profile of nature that waste has harmful impacts on the environment.
The harmful impacts of waste are not just restricted to the environment but also the life that resides within it. If there is no biodegradation, there will be waste and deterioration of life and our atmosphere, in short, a global catastrophe.
Regarding biodegradability, it is generally thought that there are two types of waste. These are biodegradable and non-biodegradable.
As the name suggests, biodegradable waste can be broken down by the action of microbes. This waste can be plant-based or animal-based wastes. Other examples of this waste will include:
- Food waste
- Animal waste
- Human waste
- Paper waste
- Hospital waste
- Dead plants
On the other hand, non-biodegradable waste is a type of waste which can not be degraded by the action of microbes. Such a type of waste is usually not found in nature. This means that non-biodegradable waste is mostly made or synthesised in the lab. Examples of non-biodegradable waste may be:
- Electronic waste
- Polyvinyl Chloride
- Nuclear waste
- Hazardous waste
- Chemical waste
- Hospital waste
- Synthetic resins
- Synthetic fibres
What are non-biodegradable plastics?
Conventional plastic is a very important example of non-biodegradable waste and perhaps the most significant too. The issue of plastic contamination and plastic accumulation has taken the entire world into its grip.
It is synthesised in the lab through the polymerisation process often using fossil fuels like crude oil.
The use of plastic dates back to the start of the 20th century; however, the use was increased by manifolds after the second world war. The world recognised the importance of plastic as its uses ranged in all fields and all sciences.
With increased consumerism, more plastic started to be used or perhaps misused. It is cited that a single plastic bag may be used for a span of some minutes to several hours yet it takes almost forever to degrade it.
Regardless of the negative impacts of plastic, it is still used in many parts of the world largely because it is cheap and is of good use. Statistics reveal that single-use plastics amount to almost half of the total plastics production.
As per the stats, the production of plastic is expected to rise to up to 1000 million tons by as early as 2050. However, this production figure was less than 3 million back in the 1950s. This exemplifies the extreme misuse of plastic.
This increased use does a lot of harm to the environment at all levels. Much non-biodegradable plastic (around 8 million tons every year) ends up in the oceans which leads to the death of millions of aquatic animals and thus disrupts the food chains.
The plastic that ends up in the seas and oceans is converted to microplastic by sunlight, wind and water waves. This microplastic is accumulated in literally every corner of the world. It may be reiterated that plastics may take more than 400 years to break down.
It is reported that as many as 700 species have been affected by plastic either through consumption or entanglement. The consumption of plastic results in the death of animals. The consumption of plastics also causes liver damage and reproductive complications in animals.
What are the impacts of non-biodegradable plastic?
The need for biodegradable waste has already been asserted and made fervent in the last section. Here we will assess some of the impacts that non-biodegradable plastic has on the environment.
These effects can be:
- Global warming
- GHG emissions
- Rise in temperature
- A rise in sea levels
- Melting glaciers
- More floods
- Frequent droughts
- Unprecedented weather patterns
- Insects attacks
- Land degradation
- Food shortage
- Food security concerns
- Species endangerment
- Infiltration into the food chains
- Loss of aquatic life
- Accumulation of plastics
- Disruptions of ecosystems
However, it may also be asserted that the effects of non-biodegradable waste are not just limited to the environment, they are also impactful on health as well. Below are the common health issues that arise from non-biodegradable plastic:
- Reproductive complications
- Hormonal issues
- Damage to foetus
- Skin damage
- Eye allergies
- Organ defects
- Psychological complication
- Neurological complications
These are some of the issues that are caused by the existence of non-biodegradable waste. In the light of mentioned facts, it is proposed that non-biodegradable waste is blunt harm and a threat to life and life-supporting systems.
What is biodegradable plastic?
Biodegradable plastics are made from naturally occurring substances that may include plants such as cornstarch or sugar cane. Since these bio-based plastics are sourced from nature, they can biodegrade to become a part of nature again.
The story of biodegradable plastic originated after the invention of conventional plastic and its increased use, primarily after the industrialisation era. This increase in use caused great harm to many aspects of life and the environment.
With the advent of increased industrialisation, consumerism, and urbanisation; unimaginable amounts of plastic were used and consumed causing almost equal negative impacts on life, health and the environment.
The use of conventional plastic has caused an immense impact on the environment. Plastic is converted into microplastic by the action of sunlight and other drivers that cause the death of organisms by entering their bodies.
Biodegradable plastics are made from natural materials such as wheat, sugar cane or cornstarch. These plastics are made by converting sugars present in the plants into plastics.
The source of this sugar can be sugar cane, sugar beets, wheat, and potatoes. This selection varies from region to region depending upon the availability.
Generally, there are two types of biodegradable plastics that are produced. These are PHA (Polyhydroxyalkanoate) and PLA (Polyactideacid).
Since these biodegradable plastics are made from natural materials, they can degrade in a short span of time as compared to conventional plastic bags which may require hundreds of years to degrade.
What are the applications of biodegradable plastic?
This section of the article will cover the applications of biodegradable plastic. The applications of biodegradable plastic or bioplastic can be explained through two frames. One is the advantages that bioplastics deliver to the environment. The other is the advantages that bioplastics deliver to humans.
As per the first aspect, we have already detailed what are the various detrimental impacts of conventional plastics that are made from the polymerisation process and involve fossils.
The use of bioplastics implies that fossil fuels are not used and thus, the negative impacts are not given off to the environment. However, this aspect is still open to a lot of debate.
Some researchers say that even though bioplastics are degradable, they still may take more than three years to degrade. Also, the toxic effects of bioplastics are also under consideration.
Regardless of this dichotomy, the environmental impacts of biodegradable plastics is unequivocal. Although there is some element of subtlety, the impacts are not as blunt as the conventional plastics.
Regarding the second aspect, which is the utilitarian value of biodegradable plastics, it is asserted that the utilitarian value of biodegradable plastics is similar to that of conventional plastics. There is no tradeoff here. It is owing to these uses that the global market of bioplastics is at 40 billion dollars.
Some of the common uses of biodegradable plastics include:
- 3d printing
- Medicinal applications
Why is biodegradability important?
After a detailed introduction to what biodegradability is, you may wonder why biodegradability is an urgent matter. It is believed that the statistical assertions are fervent enough to answer this curiosity.
The world’s population stands at around 7.8 billion and is expected to cross the threshold of 11 billion in the years to come. As far as waste production is concerned, it is estimated that an average person makes more than 4-5 kgs of waste per day.
If you do the maths, the results are beyond staggering. The global waste production stands at a whopping 2 billion tons which may reach up to 3 billion tons in the coming time. More than 40% of the produced waste is not discarded properly and is disposed of in open dumps.
To further exacerbate the situation, if more non-biodegradable waste is generated as compared to biodegradable waste, then this simply implies our doomsday.
There will be no space left to keep and treat the waste products and this will affect every life that is out there in the world, not to mention the effects on our future.
This approach is bluntly opposite to what the principles of sustainability are. Sustainability preaches to be useful in the present in a way that the future generations’ needs are not sacrificed.
That is why biodegradability is an urgent matter. We need to shift toward biodegradable waste both as a consumer and as a human because otherwise, there is no way out.
Further, given the current context of science and technology, it is easily possible to shift to biodegradable waste. As the environmental concern rises, more and more people and producers are shifting towards sustainability and eco-friendliness.
As a result, biodegradability and sustainability have become easy options to opt for without going the extra mile. Popular examples can be bio-based plastics, bio-polymers, natural fertilisers, renewable sources of energy et cetera.
It is concluded that biodegradable plastics are beneficial to both humans and the environment.
Although, the effects of bioplastics on the environment are open to scientific scrutiny as some factors make it subtly equivocal. Whereas, the utilitarian aspect of bioplastics is as blunt as the impacts of non-biodegradable plastics.
Biodegradable plastics are used in many applications such as bags, straws and medical implants. The global market is expected to have crossed the 40 billion dollars threshold.
Frequently asked questions: What are the applications of biodegradable plastic?
How long does biodegradable plastic take to degrade?
It may take up to three years for biodegradable plastic to degrade.
Is biodegradable plastic the same as bioplastic?
Yes, fundamentally there is no difference. Biodegradable plastics are made from plant-based materials like corn starch or sugar cane and that is why they are called bioplastics as well.
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