what is biodegradable plastic made of
Biodegradable plastics have gained immense popularity in recent years as a sustainable alternative to traditional plastics. With increasing concern over the environmental impact of plastic waste, many individuals and industries are actively seeking biodegradable options. But what exactly are biodegradable plastics made of?
Biodegradable plastics are derived from various sources and undergo a different manufacturing process compared to traditional plastics. The materials used to create these innovative plastics typically fall into two primary categories: biopolymers and petroleum-based polymers.
Biopolymers are polymers derived from renewable sources, such as plants, bacteria, or animals. They can be further classified into natural and synthetic biopolymers. Natural biopolymers, also known as bio-based polymers, are extracted from natural resources like corn, sugarcane, or starch. These resources contain carbohydrates, which can be broken down into simple sugar molecules. Through a process called fermentation, these sugars are transformed into biopolymer polymers such as polylactic acid (PLA) or polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA). These biopolymers have become popular alternatives to conventional plastics since they are made from renewable resources and can degrade naturally.
Synthetic biopolymers, on the other hand, are produced through chemical synthesis, mimicking the structure of natural polymers. Polycaprolactone (PCL) is an example of a synthetic biopolymer commonly used in biodegradable plastics. It is primarily derived from petrochemicals but possesses biodegradability properties. While synthetic biopolymers may not be as eco-friendly as their natural counterparts, they still offer advantages over traditional plastics by being more easily degradable.
Another category for biodegradable plastics consists of petroleum-based polymers that have been chemically modified to make them biodegradable. These modifications involve introducing additives that enhance the degradability of the plastic. One commonly used additive is called pro-degradant additives. These additives cause the plastic to degrade under specific environmental conditions, such as exposure to sunlight or heat. This process is known as photodegradation or thermal degradation. The resulting fragments are more susceptible to microbial action, taking advantage of natural degradation processes.
Although biodegradable plastics hold promise in reducing environmental pollution, it is essential to understand that not all biodegradable plastics are created equal. The term "biodegradable" can be misleading, as it does not necessarily imply that these plastics break down completely or quickly. The degree and speed of degradation depend on various factors, including the environmental conditions and the specific type of biodegradable plastic used.
Furthermore, it is important to note that proper disposal is crucial for the successful degradation of biodegradable plastics. In many cases, biodegradable plastics require specific conditions, such as commercial composting facilities, to break down efficiently. If they end up in landfills or the natural environment, they may degrade much slower or not at all. Consequently, it is crucial to educate consumers about the proper disposal methods for biodegradable plastics to maximize their environmental benefits.
In conclusion, biodegradable plastics are made from different materials, including biopolymers derived from renewable sources and petroleum-based polymers modified to enhance degradability. The production and disposal of these plastics have implications for their overall environmental impact. By choosing and using biodegradable plastics responsibly, individuals and industries can contribute to reducing the environmental burdens associated with traditional plastics and move towards a more sustainable future.