Only a couple of decades ago, biodegradable plastic was introduced to the world. Biodegradable plastics are plastics that will decompose in natural aerobic (composting) and anaerobic (landfill) environments. Biodegradation of plastics can be achieved by enabling microorganisms in the environment to metabolize the molecular structure of plastic films to produce an inert humus-like material that is less harmful to the environment. They may be composed of either bioplastics, which are plastics whose components are derived from renewable raw materials, or petroleum-based plastics which utilize an additive.
The lowering of the costs to manufacture plastic has as a result led to plastic being more widely available and as such has become an environmental issue. While today it is common place to see plastic bags everywhere as a means to transport an item from the store or restaurant, but only 20 years ago, one would rarely even see a store that offered plastic over paper.
The most common plastic seen anywhere in the world today is polyethylene. This type of plastic is what is utilized to make the grocery bags as well as many other items like water and cola bottles. The product of plastic itself is as a result of the refinement of petroleum products which are of course the root of the environmental issues we face today; the dependence on fossil fuels.
Along with polyethylene though, there are a number of other types of plastic that are also available. The plastics breaks down easier and of course do not have the toxic styrene by product that the polyethylene has. These other plastics are made from a variety of substances such as vegetable oils and starches. One big example is that of the cellophane plastic wrap which is made entirely from the pulp of wood.
As science and technology advance in to the next millennia, many more types will become available and some of those are already here. Many new types of plastic can now be readily and cheaply produced as well as the older manufacturing techniques of other plastics are being improved upon. Unfortunately, not one single type of plastic has shown the strength which can be obtained only in the polyethylene bags and as long as it remains on top as the strongest plastic bag, getting rid of it will be next to impossible.
Furthermore, as more developments unfold in the search for a polyethylene replacement, one thing is for certain that is that each and every single newly designed plastic too has its own list of environmental impact factors. Some say that we should just go back to paper, but unfortunately this cannot happen as there is not a sufficient amount of trees available for this to occur.
The goal within time is that eventually a true biodegradable plastic will be developed that is as strong or even stronger than that of polyethylene, and can break down easier without all of the toxic by-products. This would greatly reduce the amount of plastic waste consumed and disposed of into landfills.
Biodegradable Plastics .org is a new portal, displaying all the latest news, information and developments in the biodegradable plastic (bioplastics) industry. Visit us at biodegradable plastic portal. This article was written by John Harley, staff writer at Biodegradable products blog
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