Are Biodegradable Plastics the Best Alternative?

With the vast number of companies shipping goods from factories to warehouses and then to retailers, as well as the masses of online orders placed daily, there is a hugely wasteful amount of plastics. Biodegradable plastics are designed to biodegrade in soil, not in water and especially not in our oceans.

UN’s top environmental scientist cautions, “bottles and bags do not break down easily and sink…It’s well-intentioned but wrong. A lot of plastics labeled biodegradable, like shopping bags, will only break down in temperatures of 50C and that is not the ocean. They are also not buoyant, so they’re going to sink and not be exposed to UV and break down.”

Plastic waste washed up on a beach in Ghana. Improved materials would encourage recycling and prevent single-use containers from entering the oceans and breaking into small pieces

Biodegradation occurs when microorganisms feed and consume the material. The speed and extent of biodegradation will occur when there is a very healthy population of microorganisms, plenty of oxygen and water and, high temperatures. With these favorable conditions, a complete biodegradation will take place within a composting cycle, which is about three months. When the conditions are less than ideal, the process is much slower or may not occur. So water bodies like oceans and seas would not be ideal environment for biodegradtion of bio plastics since they vary in oxygen level, temperature, microorganism levels, action of tides and waves.

Natural and organic material for an environmentally friendly packaging solution. Bamboo jars can be assembled with a glass inner jar and the containers can be reused.

According to the European Parliament, “Biodegradable or not, plastics are clogging our land and oceans, threatening the health of humans and animals. The Parliament acknowledged that biodegradable plastics are not a silver bullet to our plastic pollution crisis, but merely a distraction from real solutions.’’

Nkambo Enterprises: Reusable Shopping Bags Supplier in Kampala.

Plastics, whether degradable or non-degradable, should never be allowed to end up as waste in water bodies and this can be achieved by education to change the behavior of people. Better waste collection and recycling should continue to be encouraged until further research and design of products that biodegrade in marine environment has been realized.