Breaking Down the Benefits: Exploring the World of Biodegradable Plastics

January 18, 2021 in environment, Sustainability

Article summary and Key takeaways: Biodegradable plastics have gained attention as a potential solution to plastic pollution. They are made from organic materials and go through a different manufacturing process than traditional plastics. There are different types of biodegradable plastics, each with its own properties and applications. However, there are challenges associated with biodegradable plastics, such as slow decomposition and confusion around labeling. Solutions include improving decomposition processes and implementing composting and anaerobic digestion. It is important to distinguish between biodegradable plastics and bioplastics, as they have different characteristics. The decomposition time of biodegradable plastics varies. Implementing biodegradable plastics can benefit the environment by reducing plastic pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. However, they also face challenges, such as the release of harmful substances and limited availability. Developing environmentally friendly plastics requires collaboration between industries, governments, and consumers. Overall, biodegradable plastics have the potential to create a more sustainable world.

Biodegradable Plastics: Formation, Types, Problems

Biodegradable plastics have gained significant attention in recent years as a potential solution to the growing problem of plastic pollution. These innovative materials offer the promise of reducing the environmental impact of traditional plastics by breaking down into natural elements over time. In this article, we will delve into the formation of biodegradable plastics, explore different types and their properties, discuss the challenges and problems associated with these materials, and examine potential solutions to overcome these issues. Additionally, we will compare biodegradable plastics with bioplastics, analyze their decomposition time, and highlight the benefits and challenges of implementing biodegradable plastics in various industries.

Formation of Biodegradable Plastics

The formation of biodegradable plastics involves a manufacturing process that differs from the production of traditional plastics. Biodegradable plastics are typically made from organic materials, such as plant starch, cellulose, or other polymers derived from renewable resources. These raw materials go through a series of steps, including extraction, refining, and processing, to create the final biodegradable plastic product. This manufacturing process utilizes fewer fossil fuels and emits fewer greenhouse gases compared to the production of traditional plastics, making it more environmentally friendly.

Types of Biodegradable Plastics

There are several different types of biodegradable plastics available, each with its own unique properties and applications. Some common types include polylactic acid (PLA), polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), and polybutylene adipate terephthalate (PBAT). PLA, for example, is derived from corn or sugarcane and has applications in packaging, disposable cutlery, and textile fibers. PHA is produced by bacteria and can be used in medical devices, agricultural films, and food packaging. PBAT, on the other hand, is a copolymer made from petroleum-based materials and biodegradable additives and is commonly used in packaging films and bags. These biodegradable plastics offer similar functionality to traditional plastics while being more environmentally friendly.

Problems with Biodegradable Plastics

Despite the potential benefits of biodegradable plastics, there are several challenges and problems associated with these materials. One of the main issues is the decomposition process. Biodegradable plastics require specific environmental conditions, such as high temperatures and humidity, to break down effectively. In many landfills, where biodegradable plastics often end up, these conditions are not met, leading to a slow decomposition rate. Additionally, the degradation of biodegradable plastics can release harmful chemicals into the environment, potentially causing pollution and posing risks to ecosystems.

Another concern is the confusion and lack of standardized definitions surrounding biodegradable plastics. Many products labeled as “biodegradable” may only degrade under specific conditions, leading to misleading claims and consumer confusion. This lack of clarity also affects waste management systems, as there is no universal method for sorting and processing biodegradable plastics. Moreover, the production and disposal of biodegradable plastics still require resources and energy, contributing to their overall environmental impact.

Solutions to Biodegradable Plastics Problems

To overcome the challenges associated with biodegradable plastics, various solutions are being explored. Innovations in biodegradable plastics technology aim to improve the decomposition process by developing materials that break down more quickly under a wider range of environmental conditions. Additionally, strategies such as composting and anaerobic digestion can enhance the decomposition of biodegradable plastics, diverting them from landfills and turning them into valuable resources, such as fertilizers or biogas. Government regulations and policies can also play a crucial role in promoting the use of biodegradable plastics by incentivizing their production and creating standardized labeling and disposal systems.

Biodegradable Plastics vs. Bioplastics

It is important to distinguish between biodegradable plastics and bioplastics, as they are often used interchangeably but have distinct characteristics. Bioplastics refer to materials that are derived from renewable resources, such as plants, and can be either biodegradable or non-biodegradable. Biodegradable plastics, on the other hand, specifically refer to materials that break down into natural elements over time. While both biodegradable plastics and bioplastics offer environmental benefits compared to traditional plastics, their properties and applications may vary. Bioplastics can provide a more sustainable alternative to traditional plastics, but not all bioplastics are biodegradable.

Decomposition Time of Biodegradable Plastics

The decomposition time of biodegradable plastics depends on various factors, including the specific material used, the environmental conditions, and the presence of microorganisms. Some biodegradable plastics can break down within a few months, while others may take several years. Research and case studies have shown that composting or industrial composting facilities can accelerate the decomposition process, reducing the time it takes for biodegradable plastics to degrade. Understanding the decomposition time of biodegradable plastics is crucial for waste management and recycling efforts, as it determines the most suitable disposal methods and the overall environmental impact of these materials.

Benefits of Biodegradable Plastics to the Environment

Implementing biodegradable plastics can have several positive impacts on the environment. Firstly, these materials help reduce plastic pollution in landfills and oceans by breaking down into natural elements, mitigating the long-term environmental consequences of traditional plastics. Secondly, biodegradable plastics contribute to decreased reliance on fossil fuels, as they are often derived from renewable resources. By reducing the demand for petroleum-based plastics, biodegradable plastics help combat climate change and promote sustainability. Lastly, the decomposition of biodegradable plastics results in lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional plastics, further reducing their overall environmental footprint.

Challenges and Threats of Biodegradable Plastics

While biodegradable plastics offer numerous benefits, they also face challenges and potential threats. The decomposition of biodegradable plastics can release microplastics and other harmful substances into the soil and water, potentially impacting ecosystems and human health. Furthermore, the availability and cost of biodegradable plastics are still limited compared to traditional plastics, making them less accessible to industries and consumers. Lack of awareness and understanding about biodegradable plastics can also hinder their widespread adoption, as many individuals are unfamiliar with their properties, applications, and proper disposal methods.

Developing Environmentally Friendly Plastics

The development of sustainable and environmentally friendly plastics requires collaboration between industries, governments, and consumers. Plastic manufacturers face several challenges in creating viable alternatives to traditional plastics, such as balancing functionality, cost-effectiveness, and environmental impact. However, ongoing research and development efforts are focusing on finding innovative solutions, including the use of advanced materials and technologies. Governments can support the transition to biodegradable plastics by implementing regulations and policies that encourage their production, use, and proper disposal. Furthermore, consumers can drive change by demanding sustainable alternatives and making informed choices about the products they purchase and the waste they generate.


In conclusion, biodegradable plastics have the potential to reduce the environmental impact of traditional plastics by breaking down into natural elements over time. Despite the challenges and problems associated with these materials, ongoing research, technological advancements, and policy changes offer hope for a more sustainable future. By understanding the formation, types, and properties of biodegradable plastics, as well as their benefits and challenges, individuals and industries can make informed decisions and support the transition to more environmentally friendly alternatives. With collaboration and commitment, biodegradable plastics can play a crucial role in mitigating plastic pollution, reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and creating a more sustainable world.

Question 1:
Answer: Some problems with biodegradable plastics include limited availability of recycling facilities, slower decomposition rates in certain environments, and potential contamination of recycling streams.

Question 2:
Answer: The challenges of bioplastics include higher production costs, limited scalability, and potential competition for land and resources with food production.

Question 3:
Answer: The threats of biodegradable plastics include the release of harmful chemicals during decomposition, potential harm to wildlife if not properly disposed of, and the misconception that they can be littered without consequences.

Question 4:
Answer: The challenges for developing environmentally friendly plastics include finding sustainable and renewable raw materials, improving production processes to reduce energy consumption and emissions, and ensuring proper end-of-life management options.


About the author 

Taylor Kenny

Hi everyone, I'm Taylor. As a Cornell-educated veterinarian, my career has been focused on the welfare of animals. From bustling vet clinics to serene wildlife sanctuaries, my experiences have taught me the importance of compassion and understanding in animal care. I'm here to share my knowledge, experiences, and tips on how we can all make a difference in the lives of animals.