Recently, I have been seeing a lot of products in stores labeled ‘biodegradable plastic.’ This label is misleading and is the type of thing green-minded consumers need to be wary of.
Most plastics are made from oil and do not biodegrade, but photodegrade. When something photodegrades it only breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, it never actually disintegrates like it would when biodegrading.
For photodegrading to actually take place, the plastic must be left in direct sunlight, or exposed to UV rays in some other way. This is what makes plastic-made products, such as plastic grocery bags and cigarette filters, so harmful to the environment. The products are usually buried away from sunlight in a landfill or if they do break down, it is never complete.
Another type of plastics seen in stores are being advertised as ‘degradable.’ This just means they degrade quickly at first, but never fully break down, just like plastics that photodegrade.
And although it seems that plastics breaking down into smaller pieces is better than huge chunks sitting in a landfill, they are often more harmful. The small pieces easily work their way into the ecosystem and are eaten by animals and humans.
Biodegradable plastics do exist and are made from plants, like corn, instead of oil. These products, when composted, are converted into water, carbon dioxide and biomass by microorganisms.
However, these products do not break down the same way in landfills. If left in landfills, they produce methane instead of carbon dioxide, which is more harmful.
Biodegradable plastics are often found in food utensils and containers and typically are not used for a wide range of products. To be sure if a product is truly made from biodegradable plastics, check out the Biodegradable Products Institute.
As consumers, we are responsible for knowing how and where the products we use come from. Being a green-minded shopper doesn’t mean buying the products labeled as ‘eco-friendly,’ but researching the products to make the decision for yourself. It is easy to buy products labeled ‘green,’ but that is not always the greenest thing you could do. To be truly green, make sure you are being a well-informed consumer.
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