Does Biodegradable Plastic Really Break Down?

Does Biodegradable Plastic Really Break Down?

On average, Canadians use 9-15 billion plastic shopping bags every year, enough to circle the Earth 55 times. While recycling these plastic bags may sound like a good idea, it’s actually very difficult to do in practice because there are many different kinds of plastic, and they cannot be mixed because of differing chemical compositions.

Plastic bags are photodegradable, meaning they do not decompose organically, but only after lengthy contact with sunlight. Polymer plastic bags in dark landfills will take 500 years or more to decompose.

Enter Biodegradable Plastics

Does Biodegradable Plastic Really Break Down?

Bioplastics and biodegradable plastics may sound like the same thing, but they have key differences. Bioplastics are made from natural, organic materials like plants. Biodegradable plastics use alternative methods of processing petroleum to help the plastic break down faster. By changing the plastic from photodegradable (needing sunlight) to oxy-degradable (needing oxygen), it stands a better chance of decomposing. But just how “biodegradable” are biodegradable plastics?


Tips to Segregate Solid Waste for Effective Disposal

Unfortunately, when it comes to landfills, biodegradable plastics are only slightly better than their traditionally-made bags. The problem lies in the airless environment of the landfill itself. Without light or air moving through trash, decomposition hardly begins. However, biodegradable options are still a marked improvement over traditional plastic bags, which have little to no chance of decomposing in landfills.


Does Biodegradable Plastic Really Break Down?

While the issue of how to make biodegradable plastics better for the environment continues to confound, some scientists see hope for reduction of the plastic in landfills. Certain bacteria have evolved to eat plastics. By introducing those bacteria into landfills, the hope is they will consume and remove plastics from our earth more efficiently.

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