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With the term "biodegradable plastic "or "bioplastic”Refers to a type ofplasticproduced starting from organic matter or based on synthetic polyesters characterized bybiodegradability. Some examples ofbiodegradable plasticare those based on corn starch, wheat, tapioca, potatoes, potato starch or vegetable waste such as potato skins. The panorama of thebiodegradable plasticit also hosts materials based on cellulose, polyhydroxyalkanoates and other poly acids (from the abbreviations PHA, PHB, PHV, PHH).
Is it true that bioplastics are biodegradable but are they really good for the environment?
According to a study published by the German Federal Environment Agency, thebiodegradable plasticit offers no environmental advantage over theplastictraditional. The reason? According to the German research theplastic, thoughbiodegradable, does not end up in the proper systems ofcompostingbut it is disposed of in landfills and kept in dry places which actually inhibit the biodegradation.
In the book entitled "Rubbish !: The Archeology of Garbage"(Garbage !: The archeology of garbage), author William Rathje explains that if bioplasticshould it degrade in landfills the situation would be even worse: thebioplasticas it degrades, it releases carbon dioxide and methane, plus it can cause pollution of the soil and rainwater.
Other doubts arise on the production processes related tobiodegradable plastic, to name a few: the raw material of vegetable origin (potatoes, wheat, corn…) is cultivated by conventional agriculture, therefore the crops are abundantly fertilized or even produced with genetically modified seeds.
Biodegradable plastic bags: the study of the English University of Plymouth
A study conducted in 2015 by Richard Thompson, a marine biologist who has dedicated his career to the study of plastic waste to the point of deserving the Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth, evaluated the consequences of natural degradation in relation to different types of grocery bags labeled biodegradable.
The results determined that after 3 years, most of the bags buried in different types of soil were still intact and resistant, so much so that they could still carry a weight of 5 kg.
You can read the original article about the study on this page of the official website of the University of Plymouth (in English).
Assobioplastica's position on the study of the English University of Plymouth
Assobioplastics, the Italian association of bioplastics producers, with regard to the study by Richard Thompson, wanted to specify that the study is nothing more than the confirmation of how important it is to sensitize consumers to the need to properly manage biodegradable and compostable bags in the appropriate wet circuit and that in any case, these bags have a reduced environmental impact as, if they come into contact with sea water, they decompose in just 3 months.
The study also highlights how incorrect it is to use the term "biodegradable" for products based on traditional polymers or with the addition of additives that accelerate their fragmentation (so-called oxo-degradable). The only products that can properly boast this definition are those in compostable bioplastic, as already clarified in 2015 in Italy by the AGCM (Consumer Protection Department) in the case of oxo-degradable bags, at the time used by some brands of the GDO .
"The solution is not biodegradation as such (which in any case compostable bioplastic bags have unlike the others), but rather the research and application of models for the proper management of organic waste, of which Italy is a virtuous example.
In short, in other words, thebiodegradable plasticit is advantageous for the environment only if the consumer takes on the task of composting that material. With this in mind, the biodegradable plasticit could be an excellent resource for the planet but if composting is not your passion, it is better to rely on recycling practices and, in any case, prefer fabric bags to bags inbioplastic!
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