Does it make sense to use “biodegradable” polymers in durable consumer goods?
I would like to get your feedback about potential application of biogradable polymers in durable consumer goods.
In order to have an advantage compared with conventional plastic materials, degradation rate must be relatively fast in order to avoid accumulation in the environment. This behaviour is OK for disposable materials (as packaging). However, for durable consumer goods it is needed low degradation rate and these materials (although theoretically biodegradable) can behave rather similar to conventional plastics. Therefore the only advantage would be their bio-based origin if so.
So, it is really useful to use biodegradable polymers in durable consumer goods?
Intuitively the obvious answer is No. However polymers may have biodegradable features related to the chemical structure or other substances that may be present - such as plasticisers and oils that are biodegradable. There may be preservatives or pigments substances added to the polymer to prevent or slow degradation by microbes or degradation by light (ultra violet). There are natural materials such as lignin and some hemi cellulose derivatives that are very slow degrading. So there are different ways of utilising and adding biodegradable polymers in durable consumer goods. However the only way to find out is to carry out accelerated and normal exposure or usage tests on the finished product.
30 months ago
Biodegradable plastics: are they better for the environment?
Litter is a problem with a very negative social and environmental impact. Some people believe that one way to tackle this problem is to use biodegradable plastics as an environmentally-friendly solution for things such as plastic bags. This might seem sensible at first glance, but is it really better for the environment?
Littering is fundamentally a problem of irresponsible behaviour, which should be tackled by changing people’s attitudes rather than by changing the products they are throwing away. Making products biodegradable may actually make the problem of littering worse, by making people think that it is OK to throw away valuable resources like plastics. For example, a biodegradable plastic bag that’s thrown into a hedge will still take years to disappear, rather than days as some people believe. Even a banana skin - when thrown away - needs 1-3 years before it is biodegraded!
What’s more, biodegradable plastics require specific conditions to biodegrade properly (micro-organisms, temperature, and humidity), and if not managed properly they may be worse for the environment than conventional plastics. When biodegradable plastics are put into landfill (which should always be avoided in any case) they produce harmful greenhouse gases when breaking down.
What are biodegradable plastics? Biodegradable plastics are plastics that can be broken down by microorganisms (bacteria or fungi) into water, carbon dioxide (CO2) and some bio-material. It is important to note that biodegradable plastics are not necessarily made from bio-material (i.e. plants). Several biodegradable plastics are made from oil in the same way as conventional plastics.
So what are biodegradable plastics good for? In principle plastics are valued for their ability to make strong, durable products (for example in food storage, transport, building and construction). Biodegradability should therefore be regarded as an additional functionality when the application demands a cheap way to dispose of the item after it has fulfilled its job (e.g. for packaging, protect food and keep it fresh). Examples of useful biodegradable products are:
- Food packaging – packaging that can be composted together with its contents when the product is past its sell-by date or spoiled
- Agriculture – plastic sheeting that can be ploughed-into biodegradable mulch and seed films
- Medical – absorbable sutures; micro-devices containing medicine, which break down inside the body
Biodegradability is a material property that depends much on the circumstances of the biological environment (human body differs from soil). Given that this is the case, it could be said that making a product such as a plastic bag compostable does not make much sense because this biodegradability performance will not resolve the litter issue (different conditions in the compost and on soil).
To conclude, it is a mistake to focus on finding ways to make products easier to throw away in the name of helping the environment. Biodegradable plastics are exciting and useful materials, but they should only be used when they have a concrete benefit for a specific product. The best way to help save the planet is to save energy and improve ways of recycling and recovering all plastics.
When it comes to “sustainable packaging,” there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It’s important for brand owners, food producers and manufacturers to consider very carefully what packaging format they use and to make an informed decision based on the reality of our current waste management infrastructure and level of public understanding, says Richard McKinlay, head of circular economy at resource recovery specialist Axion. “They also need to understand what actually happens to their materials at end-of-life and what their environmental impact could be.”
Specifically, are biodegradable plastics better for the environment? It’s a complicated issue. “Plastic materials that at end-of-life can completely break down naturally and disappear harmlessly may sound like the ideal answer. People hear terms such as ‘biodegradable’, ‘bio-plastic’ and ‘compostable’ and assume that these plastics are more ‘environmentally-friendly,’” he says. “However, the reality is not so simple.”
The main issue, he says, is a lack of understanding of the nature of compostable or biodegradable plastics and what bio-plastics are, particularly in terms of their specific applications and the specialist treatment process needed to deal with these materials.
Bioplastics are made using renewable feedstocks rather than being derived directly from oil. Bioplastics can be used in the production of conventional polymers that can be recycled, such as recycled PET, or biodegradable polymers such as PLA.
While it may seem obvious that selecting a bioplastic is the most sustainable option – there is a clear benefit from not depleting a non-renewable source – many petrochemicals are a by-product of the oil refining process. “While we still live in an economy that is so heavily reliant on oil, it may be better to make use of its by-products rather than let them go to waste,” McKinlay says. “Bio-plastics are not free of environmental impact, and the carbon emissions associated with growing crops and converting these into the required chemicals needs to be taken into account.”
More thoughts from McKinlay:
- “Compostable” and “biodegradable” are more or less synonymous terms and mean that the material will completely break down under certain conditions. The key to understanding any potential benefit is to know whether the polymer will easily break down, say in a home compost heap, or if it has to be treated in an industrial composting facility.
- Many plastics that are described as biodegradable or compostable have to be collected and separated from the rest of the plastic waste and be sent to a purpose-designed industrial composting facility where they can be broken down successfully. These facilities exist for food waste, but ensuring that compostable packaging reaches them can be challenging.
- Consumer confusion over what materials can and can’t be recycled is another big issue. Is this plastic water bottle made from a biodegradable plastic or “conventional” plastic, like PET? Does it go in the recycling bin or with the food waste collection?
- Currently, throughout the UK there is a good collection and recycling infrastructure for PET bottles and this can be accessed by most people through curbside collections. But the infrastructure for food waste collections is not as well-established. For water bottles made from biodegradable plastic to be correctly recycled, a public communication campaign would be required so that people understand that biodegradable plastic should go in with food waste, and more food waste collection facilities in public places would be needed.
- Some packaging such as that made from starch, will readily breakdown in a less controlled environment. However it is not possible to switch completely to these type of materials because they are not suitable for all applications. For example, kitchen/food recycling caddy liners are starch-based and will degrade in a home composting system. However this material would not be suitable for use in packaging as it would quickly start to break down when wet.“Ultimately it has to be down to infrastructure investment, public education and behavioural changes,” McKinlay says. “Plastics are an inherent part of our lives and not ‘all bad.’ Their responsible use and disposal/recycling should be a top priority.”
A SEA OF PLASTIC?
Publication of the garbage patch study coincided with a new report from Britain, Foresight Future of the Sea, that found plastic pollution in the ocean could triple by 2050 unless a “major response” is mounted to prevent plastic from reaching the ocean. The report declared plastic pollution to be one of the main environmental threats to the seas, along with sea-level rise and warming oceans.
The study included two aerial surveys in October of 2016 that took 7,000 images, and 652 ocean surface trawls conducted in July, August, and September of 2015 by 18 vessels.
The surface trawls also filled in the rest of the story.
Fifty plastic items collected had a readable production date: One from 1977, seven from the 1980s, 17 from the 1990s, 24 from the 2000s, and one from 2010. Researchers also found 386 objects with recognizable words or sentences in nine different languages.
The writing on a third of the objects was Japanese and another third was Chinese. The country of production was readable on 41 objects, showing they were manufactured in 12 different nations.
The study also concluded that plastic pollution is “increasing exponentially and at a faster rate than in surrounding waters.” Others are not as confident that the conclusion indicates a dramatic change in distribution of marine debris. Much of the world’s marine debris is believed to lie in the coastal regions, not in the middle of oceans.
Leonard says he was impressed with the scope of the study. “It’s strong science,” he says. “But at the same time, in this field, the harder we look, the more plastic we find.”
7 Advantages and Disadvantages of Biodegradable Plastics
Biodegradable plastics have two classes. These are bioplastics which are made from renewable raw materials and plastics that come from petrochemicals that have biodegradable additives. Created to minimize pollution from plastic pollutants, these plastic types will turn to compost after a certain period of time. However, there are upsides and downsides to the use of these materials.
List of Advantages of Biodegradable Plastics
1. Carbon Emission Reduction
One of the advantages related to the use of biodegradable plastics is the minimal emission of carbon in the air during the process of manufacturing bioplastics. As opposed to the normal manufacturing of plastics that create four tons of emissions, bioplastics only emit approximately .8 tons of carbon that add to the greenhouse effect and global warming.
2. Consumes Less Energy
The manufacturing process of biodegradable plastics requires less amount of energy and does not need fossil fuels to be recycled. Conversely, traditional plastics demand more energy in production and at the same time requires the burning of fossil fuel. Since less energy is needed, more bioplastics can be produced while there is less pollution in the environment.
3. Less Landfill Area Needed
Plastics that are non-biodegradable are brought to landfills to discard them. Consequently, land area that could have been used for agriculture, residence or industrial applications is instead converted to landfills. If bioplastics are used, there is no need to add more landfills since these plastics can be absorbed by the soil and be converted to compost or humus.
Apart from taking less time to break down when discarded, biodegradable plastics can also be recycled and are non-toxic since they contain no chemicals or toxins compared to other types of plastics that can emit harmful chemicals, especially if burned.
List of Disadvantages of Biodegradable Plastics
1. Need for Composters
The flipside of using biodegradable plastics is that there will be a need for industrial composters to turn them into composts and availability of the equipment in some countries can be a problem. Apart from the cost, not all countries have the proper equipment especially if this is not the priority of the government. In the end, the bioplastics that need to be processed will not be discarded properly.
2. Engineering Issues
These bioplastics are plant-based and this means that they come from organic sources from farms such as soybeans and corn. However, these organic plants are sprayed with pesticides which contain chemicals that can contaminate the crops and be transferred or included in the finished product.
3. Risk of Contamination
Biodegradable plastics should not be mixed with non-biodegradable plastics when thrown in garbage bins. The problem here is that not all people know how to segregate or distinguish bioplastics from other plastic types. Once these two types of plastics are mixed together, these bioplastics become contaminated and cannot be used anymore. Consequently, these contaminated bioplastics will end in landfills and add to the volume of thrash.
Biodegradable plastics are becoming popular these days because of the increasing awareness on global warming and environmental issues. Despite having disadvantages, it will help to focus on the benefits of using bioplastics and on educating the people on its importance and effects on a global scale.
The Psychology Behind Why People Don’t Recycle
If it’s not extremely easy, people won’t do it.
By Erin Schumaker
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The benefits of recycling seem straightforward. The practice reduces waste sent to landfills, conserves natural resources, reduces pollution and creates jobs. And the majority of Americans do recycle... sometimes.
Far fewer, however, do it consistently.
“Recycling is a behavior,” Brian Iacoviello, an assistant psychiatry professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City told The Huffington Post. “Much like exercising or eating healthily, people often engage in this behavior less than they ‘should.’”
Indeed, according to a 2011 Ipsos Public Affairs survey, only half of adults recycle daily. Another third of respondents said they recycle less frequently than that, and a full 13 percent revealed that they never recycle.
Because the reward for recycling (saving the earth) and the repercussions for infrequently recycling (damaging the environment) aren’t necessarily immediate, it can be hard for people to make the association between their daily habits and those habits’ consequences.
“It’s that true paradox,” said Jessica Nolan, an associate psychology professor at the University of Scranton. “Individual behavior is both essential and inconsequential.”
Nolan, who previously worked as a municipal recycling director and who researches environmental problems from a social perspective, said that identifying a community’s barriers to recycling is an important first step toward increasing participation.
While different communities and demographics have different barriers to recycling ― and thus require unique recycling solutions to overcome them ― here are the top reasons people said they don’t recycle more:
The primary excuse people gave for not recycling was that recycling wasn’t convenient or accessible to them.
“Obviously if the infrastructure is not there, you can’t expect people to participate in a program that doesn’t exist,” Nolan said. “We know that convenience is one of the strongest predictors of whether or not somebody will participate in the available recycling program.”
According to The Economist, about a quarter of Americans don’t have access to curbside recycling, meaning they have to take the extra step of dropping their cans and bottles at a recycling center if they want to participate.
Of course, how people answer a survey isn’t necessarily a reliable indicator of whether or not services are available to them. While doing an informal survey of college students in Arkansas, Nolan noticed that individuals from the same town sometimes answered differently about whether or not a recycling program existed in their hometown.
“If you’re not interested, you might think you have no recycling program, but in fact you do,” she said. “If there’s a drop off center, you wouldn’t see it unless you went looking for it.”
HuffPost combined the reasons people said they don’t recycle into three clear “types,” then asked the experts what can be done to convert them:
1. The ‘No-Time’ Non-Recycler
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The excuse: Recycling is inconvenient, time-consuming or too costly.
The experts say: Iacoviello thinks the crude cost-benefit analysis people do when evaluating recycling’s benefit to them emphasizes the immediate over the long term.
The cost of recycling “is seen and felt more immediately than the cost to the environment of not recycling, which is why it influences behavior more,” he explained.
Those who think recycling is inconvenient may be doing a similar cost-benefit analysis of how much time recycling takes compared to how easy they perceive the activity to be.
“Once you’ve got your system in place, it’s really not that hard,” Nolan said. “The perceived difficulty of doing something is always greater.”
Targeted intervention: Structural solutions are fundamental to getting more people to participate in environment efforts, according to Nolan.
If, for example, citizens say their town’s drop off program is inconvenient, instituting a curbside program could improve recycling recycling participation rates. Rural communities may need to think more creatively; Nolan suggested partnerships with grocery stores, convenient drop-off sites because people are already visiting them.
Or, she said, “If you see recycling as a value-added activity, why not charge a little more for trash [services] and then make recycling [pickup] free? There are structural ways that you can incentivize recycling.”
2. The Aluminum Can Confuser
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The excuse: Isn’t sure what’s recyclable and what’s not; doesn’t understand recycling’s benefit.
The experts say: Recycling can be confusing. It differs from community to community and rules about recycling have changed over time.
And recycling contamination ― when non-recyclables are mixed in with recyclables, rendering the whole batch useless ― is a real issue. (Pro tip: plastic bags CANNOT go in the recycling bin.)
“There’s always that tension between getting people to participate and making sure you end up with a product, rather than just a waste stream,” Nolan said.
Targeted intervention: Uniform educational materials across communities could help eliminate confusion, even if those communities accept different materials as recyclable.
Nolan suggested having one single image for a given material that’s used everywhere. “If you take glass, then this is the sticker for glass,” she explained. “If you take metal, this is the sticker for which metals you can put in. The idea is to make it easier and free up mental resources.”
Penalties for not recycling are especially effective at encouraging people to learn their cities’ recycling rules. San Francisco, for example, has made strides by making recycling mandatory and fining citizens, building owners and businesses who don’t separate their trash, recycling and compost materials.
Today the city has the highest landfill diversion rate in the country, and diverts 80 percent of its waste away from landfills, with a goal of eliminating waste entirely by 2020.
3. The Debris Denier
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The excuse: Believes recycling doesn’t makes a difference, isn’t important or is a low priority (”always forgets” to recycle).
The experts say: Despite tangible evidence to the contrary, some respondents still said they didn’t think recycling makes a difference. That’s an indication there’s a key disconnect between communities and recycling advocates, according to Suparna Rajaram, a psychology professor and director of the social memory and cognition lab at Stony Brook University.
“People are not receiving information, whether it makes a difference and in what way it makes a difference,” she said. “There’s no direct connection.”
Other responders say “they always forget” to recycle, another indication that recycling is a low priority for them.
“Why do you forget?” Rajaram asks. “Because you don’t see [recycling] as being a salient behavior that has any consequences.”
Targeted intervention: Rajaram says it’s not just important that people know how to recycle correctly. They also need information about how their recycling efforts directly affect their community.
“Reward can reinforce action,” she said, noting that a reward needn’t be personal. It could be as simple as well-circulated information about the tangible benefits of high participation in community recycling programs.
“If there is not enough information about that connection, we don’t have a starting point.”
Anything done to improve planet Earth by increasing recycling is a good thing. Everyone needs to increase their knowledge about what items that can and can't be recycled. This education should start from the recycling company's themselves and be promoted by all levels of government. These programs will help the educated consumer make a better choice as to what product to buy and use that can and will be more Eco friendly. This should be accompanied with making recycling mandatory all across the USA and worldwide. This thought process of reduce, reuse, recycle will reduce the amount of garbage thrown away into our landfills. This hopefully leads to less trash thrown into the oceans, lakes, rivers, streams the world over. The manufacturing industry should help by reducing waste, using more recycled products in their manufactured products and designing more biodegradable product packaging. Some areas of the USA are making electrical energy through the use of burning trash to heat water. This changes to steam to turn turbines which generates electricity. This helps to reduce the amount of trash that is disposed of in landfills.
Americans generate 10.5 million tons of plastic waste a year but recycle only 1 or 2 % of it. An estimated 14 billion pounds of trash-most of it plastic -is dumped in the world's oceans every year.
Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times. We currently recover only five percent of the plastics we produce. The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.
According to the EPA, plastics make up more than 12 percent of the municipal solid waste stream, “a dramatic increase from 1960, when plastics were less than one percent of the waste stream.” US residents are buying more plastic, and only about 8 percent of it gets recycled. The plastics industry rarely uses recycled plastics in the vast majority of their products, unlike the glass and metal industries. The recycling arrows stamped on plastic products and the cities that collect every type of plastic via their recycling programs lead people to believe that all plastic products are recyclable and being recycled, and that’s simply not true. Non-recyclable plastics are separated and landfilled.
Some plastics we know are toxic, such as #3, which is also known as PVC or vinyl. PVC contains phthalates and heavy metals, and creates dioxins when it burns. Other plastics contain Bisphenol-A (BPA), which has been identified as a chemical that disrupts hormones. Plastics can contain thousands of possible additives, and manufacturers are not required to disclose what their recipes are. Any plastic can leach, depending on the conditions (light, heat) and what additives it includes.