Are Biodegradable Plastics Our Environmental Savior?

Most people are fully aware of the issues with plastics and our environment. While campaigns to remove single use plastic items such as drinking straws rage around the world, they are only affecting minute change. Unfortunately for the environment, even if every single person stopped using plastic unnecessarily, it is still in use in so many areas as the safest product.

From medical syringes to secure transportation of certain items. And while not using plastic cutlery may be a great first step, banning plastic straws has had a detrimental effect on many with disabilities in the community.

This is why companies like Danimer Scientific pushing forward with the development of sustainable and biodegradable plastics is an essential component to removing plastic waste from our environment.

What Is Biodegradable Plastic?

Firstly, lets clear up something about “biodegradable”. For anything to be biodegradable it must be able to breakdown (usually within a year) and turn back into completely natural parts. With something like biodegradable potato or flax disposable plates, there are no additives that will prevent this from happening.

While the coating on some disposable paper plates means that although the paper component may completely break down, the coating is leaving manmade (unnatural) chemicals behind, so is not biodegradable. A similar effect with biodegradable soaps compared with non-biodegradable soaps. Just because it dissolves and you can’t see it anymore, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Turtle with Plastic

Creating Biodegradable Plastic.

What Danimer Scientific is doing is using naturally grown soya plants and turning them into a biodegradable plastic material, which can then be used in a variety of manufacturing uses. One of the difficulties with creating biodegradable plastics is that you need to consider the end use.

Creating a disposable dinner plate or takeaway container that is biodegradable is not overly difficult, as they don’t need to hold their contents for an extended period. However, creating a biodegradable cola bottle that might end up sitting on a shelf for several years has proved to be more complicated.

In addition, some of these plastics need to be disposed of in special ways otherwise they maintain their plastic form.

Plastic Trash

Is it Sustainable?

The other thing to consider is how sustainable the practice is. We should all be aware of the issues regarding farming practices that have killed native plants and wildlife, or strip mining that has likewise created environmental catastrophes. Replacing one environmental disaster with another that we won’t have to deal with in this generation is not helping.

Danimer Scientific is using soya to create plastic. However, before we applaud the concept and see the process going into full commercial manufacturing systems, sustainability needs to be addressed. It is estimated that only 3% of the world’s soya crops are farmed with a sustainable practice. While Danimer Scientific has built their plastic creation model around one of environment sustainability this doesn’t mean that other companies following a similar line of thinking will.

Plastic in Hand

Action on Plastics

The harm from plastic waste cannot be underestimated. While the first actionable step is for consumers to say no to plastic where they can, and to send a clear message to businesses that we do not want unnecessary plastic, this is just a small step. The majority of plastic waste isn’t at a consumer level, but at a business to business level. Shipping of pallets wrapped in layers of plastic or the use of huge plastic bladder bags (which are supposedly recyclable, but only in limited centers around the world) are huge issues. Then there is the endless polystyrene, or waste from the manufacturing of plastic goods.

Supporting environmentally friendly, and sustainable, alternatives to plastic is a great way to ensure a healthier future. The next step is to work out how to clean up the microplastics we are already ingesting, but people are working on that too.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.