Disposable plastic amounts to 36% of the total, requires more and more oil and is born to become waste.
But bioplastic is not the ultimate solution, especially the hard one: here are some useful information about it.
The problem of plastic is becoming more and more cumbersome, so much so that Greenpeace has launched the “Plastic Shopping Carts” investigation to draw attention to the amount of plastic, often single-use, that we unconsciously put in our carts every time we go shopping.
A new and special focus is on the material that seemed to transform the plastic packaging world, that is bioplastics.
What are bioplastics?
The term bioplastic refers to a plastic substance composed – at least in part – of organic biomass instead of the traditional oil-derived molecules.
Among the most widely used renewable raw materials to produce bioplastics are starch and cellulose, often derived from corn and sugar cane. Although “organic” plastics differ from the more common petroleum-based polymers, however, they are not always biodegradable: those that do not decompose within weeks or months are referred to as “durable”. If, for example, we throw a bioplastic water bottle into the sea, it will take years to dissolve.
Where do we find bioplastics the most?
The food and beverage industry is the sector that, nowadays, most exploits bioplastics for the production of food containers, shopping bags, biodegradable utensils and much more, but it is also true that this particular material has existed for more than a hundred years: corn and soybean oil were two elements used in the manufacture of some parts of Ford cars.
In short, these materials have made their way into many industries, from automotive to electronics, from agriculture to textiles.
What are the obstacles to its disposal?
The first obstacle is implicit in the material itself: hard bioplastics take years to decompose. There are petroleum-based plastic polymers that, under optimal conditions, decompose faster than their organic biomass-based counterparts.
But the real issue with this material is that it is often used as a mere tool for greenwashing. In fact, even if one wants to recycle the packaging correctly, biodegradability is often only true in theory, due to the lack of disposal facilities.
Composting plants report the lack of a dedicated disposal chain and declare themselves unable to process compostable plastic delivered together with organic waste. Alia Servizi Ambientali SpA, the management company for environmental services in central Tuscany, issued a very clear note:
“While waiting for a dedicated chain, hard bioplastic artefacts should be placed in the undifferentiated waste bin.
To date, Mater-Bi shopping bags are the only bioplastics compatible with the conditions of composting processes, whereas hard bioplastic products decompose under different conditions and process times and would compromise the entire compost production”
It is in this mood of alarm that the European Sup (Single Use Plastics) Directive was born, which as of 3 July 2021 bans the use of those single-use plastic products for which there are commercially available alternatives. But it also banned paper products coated with plastic film (such as plates and cups) and biodegradable plastic products, for which our country, a leader in the sector, has made an exception (thus opening a dispute with Europe).
What to do then?
Unfortunately, there is only one solution: trying to avoid plastic from our position as consumers and, as Greenpeace suggests, avoiding as much single-use packaging as possible from the shopping cart, which is already born to be waste.
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