What is bioplastic? Bioplastics – also referred to as organic plastics – are a form of plastic derived from a renewable biomass source such as vegetable oil, corn starch, pea starch or microbiota instead of fossil fuel (petroleum). Some, but not all, are designed to biodegrade under special circumstances. Bioplastics are typically more expensive than plastics made from fossil fuels.
There is widespread confusion regarding the difference between biodegradable plastics and traditional plastics that include a percentage of biological material.
Are Bioplastics Biodegradable?
There is also confusion between biodegradable plastics and the type of environment that is required for biodegration to begin. The main “claim to fame” for bioplastics is its ability to biodegrade or compost. Unfortunately, according to Smithsonian Magazine, this is not always correct. There are specific circumstances in which the PLA will decompose into water and carbon dioxide, but the vast majority of consumer products currently end up in a landfill where they decompose at the same slow speed of any other plastic.
Also, most composting facilities do not accept plastic, and plastics that require a compost environment typically do not biodegrade in a landfill. Some bioplastics are oxo-degradable instead of biodegradable, meaning they degrade into smaller pieces but cannot biodegrade in a landfill environment. Oxo biodegradable plastic cannot be recycled.
When it comes to bioplastics, the industry is in its infancy. What consumers assume the term “bioplastic” means can be very different than the reality of a product’s actual environmental behavior.
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