To combat the massive problem of plastic debris in the world’s oceans, manufacturers developed lightweight plastic products that are supposed to break down rapidly, thus reducing hazards to marine animals. But these so-called ‘biodegradable plastics’ aren’t the answer, according to the United Nations’ top environmental scientist, because they don’t behave as promised. Instead, the ‘greener’ plastics contribute to the problem of ocean plastic just as much as other varieties.
Previous studies have shown that biodegradable plastic products do not break down more rapidly in landfills. Now, a United Nations report issued this week says the supposedly eco-friendly plastics don’t deteriorate rapidly in the ocean, either. In fact, the report says, the only environment in which they do dissolve according to manufacturer’s claims is in industrial digesters. That doesn’t exactly address the problem for the 32 percent of the world’s plastic that end up somewhere other than waste management facilities.
Related: New report says plastic trash to exceed fish in the sea by 2050
Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist at the UN Environment Program, warns that biodegradable plastics are not the answer to the problem of ocean plastic. “It’s well-intentioned but wrong. A lot of plastics labelled biodegradable, like shopping bags, will only break down in temperatures of 50C (122F) and that is not the ocean. They are also not buoyant, so they’re going to sink, so they’re not going to be exposed to UV and break down,” she told the Guardian.
Ironically, some of the additives used to make plastic more likely to biodegrade also make it more difficult to recycle. This means the ‘green’ product can actually pose more of a threat to the environment than other types of plastic. “When you start adding all of that [additives], when it becomes waste, they [the additives] become the enemy of the environment. As consumers we need to think of the use of plastic,” McGlade said. Reducing all types of plastics, and trading them in for truly biodegradable products, such as this ingenious six-pack ring made from barley and wheat.
Via The Guardian
Images via Shutterstock and Hillary Daniels/Flickr