For most people, nothing beats the convenience and flexibility of using plastic products. Plastic materials have been used primarily as packaging materials but they are also used to make serveware. Unfortunately, using plastic products is the worst thing that you could do to the environment. To minimize plastic wastes, some manufacturers came up with better alternatives to plastic plates and cups. These alternatives include compostable products like disposable wooden plates, recyclable dinnerware such as paper plates, and bio-plastics.
Of all these alternatives, bio-plastics are the most similar to plastic products. In fact, most stores, particularly supermarkets, are now using oxo-degradable plastic bags instead of the usual plastic bags and brown bags in an effort to minimize plastic wastes.
But are bio-plastics as green as they are made out to be?
There are misleading infos about bio-plastics AKA oxo-degradable plastics. In this guide, we are outlining the facts about bio-plastics as well as other factors to consider when buying these kinds of plastic products:
Facts about Oxo-Degradable Plastics
Oxo-degradable plastics are made from traditional polymers (polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) but are treated with additives to facilitate and accelerate degradation when exposed to oxygen, light, and heat. The additives are usually metal salts of carboxylic acids or dithiocarbamates, which are based on cobalt, iron, manganese, or nickel. The metals are meant to exhibit strong pro-oxidative effects, causing the plastic to biodegrade when exposed to UV light.
Conventional plastic products could also be treated with organic enzymes to facilitate degradation. These plastics are called “enzyme-mediated degradable” plastics. Unlike oxo-degradable plastics, which biodegrade through sun exposure, microorganisms that secrete a special enzyme break down enzyme-mediated degradable plastics.
Oxo-biodegradables take about 1 to 5 years to biodegrade according to industry claims. These plastics leave residues and small pellets that could be broken down through a highly controlled degradation phase. The materials require hot, dry conditions to break down.
Are Oxo-biodegradable Plates and Cups Eco-Friendly?
Compared to traditional plastic materials, oxo-degradable plastics are less harmful to the environment because the raw materials could be broken down. However, there are certain factors that affect the greenness of oxo-degradable plastics.
For one thing, conditions must be right for oxo-degradables to break down. If the oxo-degradable plastics are not exposed to sunlight, they will not break down. The same rings true for enzyme-mediated degradable plastics. If enzyme-mediated degradable plastics are not in contact with the right microbes, these won’t break down in landfills at all. Since most landfills are full, enzyme-mediated degradable plastics are not being processed properly so they only end up taking more space and contributing to the world’s worsening trash problem.
Some experts also believe that degradable plastics do more harm than good. Because oxo-degradable plastics break into tiny pieces of plastics called microplastic, these products end up contaminating the oceans and causing marine animals to die. Microplastics also end up in the food we eat because marine animals consume these tiny fragments of plastic materials.
In fact, microplastics have been found in human stools, which sparked health and fertility fears. Some experts believe that degradable plastics may not be as harmless or eco-friendly as they were made out to be.
Professor Tony Underwood from the University of Sydney described degradable plastic bags as “not a solution to anything much, unless we are quite happy to shift it all into particle-sized plastics rather than plastic bag-sized plastic.”
Backyard Compostable Products: The Eco-friendly Alternative to Plastic
Compostable products offer the same convenience as plastic products. These products are much more eco-friendly because they degrade quickly while also boosting nutrients in the soil. If you are looking for high-quality disposable dinnerware, it’s best use backyard compostable serveware like ECO Homeware’s range of disposable wood plates.
While compostable products are made from biomaterials, some of these products have to be processed in a composting facility for proper disposal. The processing itself requires more energy to complete. In addition, the products have to be transported, which affects their green factor. In some cases, mixing compostable disposables with recyclable products could contaminate the recycling process.
On the other hand, backyard compostable disposables do not require any processing at all. You can simply add the discarded backyard compostable disposables in your compost pit for disposal. Backyard compostable products like disposable wood plates and cups are typically made without using dyes, wax, and other compounds that could leach to the soil and pollute the earth. Compostable disposables are also made from renewable sources so these do not deplete the earth’s natural resources.
While biodegradable plastics like oxo-degradable plastics and enzyme-mediated degradable plastics seem like the best alternative to plastic products, they are not as eco-friendly as they were made out to be. But with proper processing, these products could biodegrade, which minimizes unnecessary trash that ends up in landfills.
Still, if you are concerned about the greenness of a product or you’d like to become more eco-conscious, opt for similar products made with backyard compostable materials.