Frequently Asked Questions about Biodegradable Plastics

January 4, 2024

As the world grapples with the growing issue of plastic waste, biodegradable plastics have emerged as a potential solution. These materials are often touted for their ability to decompose naturally, offering a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional plastics. However, there are several nuances and misconceptions about biodegradable plastics that need clarification. Here, we address some of the most common questions surrounding these materials.

What are biodegradable plastics and how are they used?

Biodegradable plastics are commonly used for disposable items such as packaging, cutlery, and food service containers. In theory, they could replace many applications for conventional plastics, but this involves challenges like ensuring proper industrial composting systems and avoiding their degradation into microplastics or non-biodegradable fragments​​.

Are bio-based plastics always 100% bio-based?

Not necessarily. Bio-based plastics are often only partially bio-based. The bio-based content in these plastics can be determined using standards like CEN/TS 16137 for polymers and EN 16785-1 for products. This bio-content is usually expressed as a percentage value.

Do bio-based and fossil-based plastics have different chemical structures?

Some polymers can be produced both bio- and fossil-based and ultimately have the same structure, like polyethylene. Others, like polyamides, can be formed by condensation of various carboxylic acids and amines, allowing for partly bio-based (and partly fossil-based) production. There are also plastics exclusively produced bio-based, such as polylactide (PLA).

Can bio-based plastic bags be disposed of in the biowaste bin?

Generally, no. Bio-based plastics are not always biodegradable. Only bio-based biowaste collection bags that are also biodegradable and certified according to specific standards like “Bioabfall-Beutel DINplus” may be put in the biowaste bin. The municipalities may also have specific regulations regarding the use of these bags​​.

Is it important for bio-based plastics to be recyclable?

Yes, for environmental reasons, plastics should be designed to be mechanically recyclable. This is also in line with quotas set by laws like the German Packaging Act. Manufacturers are encouraged to design their packaging to be as recyclable as possible.

What is the principle of cascade use in bioplastics?

The principle of cascade use suggests that biogenic resources should first be used in durable and repairable products, then recycled, and only finally used for energy recovery. This principle is vital for a sustainable and resource-conserving use of biogenic resources, as intensive agriculture and forestry can have negative impacts on the climate and environmen​​.

Can products made of biodegradable plastics be disposed of in the biowaste collection?

No, items like cups, cutlery, and plates made from biodegradable plastics should not be disposed of in the biowaste collection. They interfere with treatment processes in composting plants, are only partially degraded, and can contaminate the compost produced. They should be disposed of in the designated waste collection systems​​.

How long do biodegradable plastics take to decompose?

The decomposition time varies widely depending on the type of biodegradable plastic and the environmental conditions. Some may break down within a few months in industrial composting facilities, while others may take years in less ideal conditions.

Are biodegradable plastics more expensive than conventional plastics?

Yes, generally, biodegradable plastics are more expensive to produce than traditional plastics due to higher material and production costs.

Do biodegradable plastics release harmful substances during decomposition?

Most biodegradable plastics are designed to decompose without releasing harmful substances. However, the composition of the plastic and the decomposition environment can influence this.

In conclusion, biodegradable plastics offer a promising path towards reducing plastic pollution, but their effective utilization requires understanding their properties, applications, and disposal methods. As technology and awareness improve, these materials may play an increasingly vital role in our transition to a more sustainable future.

Contact Bio-Tec Environmental to learn more about the EcoPure biodegradable plastic additive.