Eco-Plastics: Friendly or Not

Tue, Jun 27, 2017
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Eco-plastic may not be fantastic!

Is there really such thing as "biodegradable plastic"? And if so, are they really good for the environment or will they ultimately add to the problem?

Many of us have known about these Eco-plastics, you may see them everywhere now. In the grocery store, as bags for veggies, at your favorite restaurant as to-go containers, and even at the local coffee shop, as utensils that you throw in the compost bin when you're done. But when choosing these products, does that really mean we are making a better choice?
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Eco warrior, Olivia P suggests, "This is great but what are the ecological costs of producing it? Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that there are now compostable bags, but before we jump for joy we should know how labor intensive it is, if it takes more oil to produce this bag than standard plastic bags, where are they produced, who produces them, do raw materials have to be shipped half way around the world so that they can be produced and sold (like the Prius)? Is there a third party who does this kind of evaluation?"

It is true, biodegradable plastics have a hairy past. Originally made from a combination of starch and petroleum, they didn't truly 'decompose' but rather turned into little pieces of plastic that disintegrated not degraded into the soil. Today, however, there are new and improved biodegradable plastics such as the Ecoflex, a BASF Corp design that is commercially selling a petroleum based polymer that actually is biodegradable in compost piles, whether used on its own (like the plastic bags you put your fruit into) or as a coating for a natural material like a starch based to-go container. They say that the breakdown is so utterly complete the company renders it as a "fertilizer."

There has to be a catch, right? Right. To break down fully, these 'biodegradable plastics' must be put in compost material, because they must make contact with hungry microbes. Although I have scene at my favorite Coffee Shop that the eco-cutlery they offer has its own compost pail next to them for disposal, but I am sure not everyone disposes of it in that compost bin, and I am very sure that only a handful of people are going home and putting it in their compost. All I am saying is that establishments should still encourage the use of washable cutlery and alternatives to plastic bags and such, because that is really the best way to solve this problem.

Biodegradable plastic trash bags, on the other hand, are a great idea for sending your yard debris to the dump. If you put your grass clippings and leaves in a biodegradable trash bag and then take it to your local community compost pile, this is a wonderful idea for decreasing the amount of plastic bags sent to our landfill. Just remember to make sure that the bags you are purchasing have a "Compostable" seal on the box.

Unfortunately in California last year, the California Grocers Association estimates that they dolled out 180 million plastic bags, and where do you think those plastic bags are now? Thatís right, in our waterways and landfills. Bottom line; ditch the plastic for re-usable alternatives!
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