Biodegradable plastics cannot perform miracles

By Leticia Freire

42884.jpegLitter is one of the biggest environmental problems of today. The consumption of molds adopted by much of modern societies caused the continuous increase and exaggerated the amount of waste produced on the planet. Amidst this scenario is one of the great evils: plastic.

According to the Brazilian Supermarket Association (ABRAS), in Brazil some 12 billion little bags per year are consumed. Of these, 80% becomes trash, taking over a thousand years to decompose. But it is not only those packages whose final destination is the destruction of nature. According to a report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP, its acronym in English), plastic products, such as bottles, bags, food wrappers, cups and cutlery, form the bulk of the rubbish found in the ocean. In some regions, this element corresponds to 80% of sea garbage.

Biodegradable: from myth to reality

In an attempt to minimize the footprint, some manufacturers add starch or cellulose to the mixture of plastic, thus speeding up the decomposition process of certain packaging. But will this solve the problem of biodegradation?

The answer is no! "The biodegradable title does not absolutely guarantee anything at all," warns Silvia Rolim, a chemical engineer and technical adviser of Plastivida Socio-Environmental Institute of Plastics, a national organization of reference with regard to issues related to plastics. "Obviously, it is better to opt for biodegradable, but the presence of starch or cellulose is not a guarantee of decomposition in environments without light and oxygen," she explains.

According to the engineer, biodegradable plastics require specific conditions to decompose properly. If disposed of improperly, they can be as harmful to the environment as conventional plastics. "Even when a banana peel is thrown out under the wrong conditions, it requires one to three years to biodegrade. Nature does not do magic," adds Silvia.

They biodegrade, what now?

But even in the case of biodegradable plastics, the question of what the material becomes after decomposition remains. This question made ANVISA (Agência Nacional de Vigilância Sanitária, National Agency for Sanitary Vigilance) declare that one cannot assert that the use of biodegradable plastics is more advisable, because this new material may lead to new forms of soil contamination.

For Silvia Rolim, the integral solution depends on the efficiency of the new national public policy for solid waste and an intense participation of enterprises in this process. "Any solid waste policy, that includes the use of non-biodegradable plastics, depends on proper collection and correct disposal of such waste," reinforces the engineer.

Translated from the Portuguese version by:

Lisa Karpova


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Author`s name Oksana Orlovskaya