With the growing awareness about climate change, the demand for alternative solutions is on the rise. The foremost concern amongst the many factors contributing to environmental degradation is plastic.
People’s dependence on this easily disposable product led to a new kind of pollution called plastic pollution. Today’s global leaders, leading industrialists are joining hands to fight this menace.
Plastic is everywhere and it is impossible to get rid of it completely. But we can make efforts to reduce our dependence on it. Consumers should take part in knowing about the alternatives, creating awareness amongst peers, etc.
Manufacturers should come up with cost-effective, environmentally-friendly solutions. The focus should be on the 3R approach, that is, reduce, reuse and recycle.
Biodegradable and compostable are the modern-day solutions to tackle the problem of plastic. Often times, both terms are used interchangeably. But are biodegradable and compostable the same thing? The answer is no as they are quite different. Let us understand what they are and the difference between them.
What Does Biodegradable Mean & What It Is
The term biodegradable is made up of words – ‘Bio’ meaning life, ‘Degrade’ meaning break down, and ‘able’ meaning to occur. Biodegradable means the breakdown of products into harmless residues.
The waste decomposes in the absence of oxygen. It turns into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass within a reasonable amount of time. Though the amount of time it takes for the product to degrade can vary, it is way less than 1000 years which is the amount plastics take to eliminate.
What Is Compostable And What Does It Mean
Compostable is the disintegration of the waste into organic compounds. It is a process of recycling the organic waste which turns into fertilizer for the soil.
The products breakdown into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass. It happens at a rate similar to paper and breaks down into small pieces in about 90 days. It leaves no trace of the original compost and no toxic residue.
What Is The Difference Between Biodegradable And Compostable
People generally confuse compostable with the biodegradable. While the compostable products are biodegradable, it is not necessary that all biodegradable products are compostable.
The main difference lies in the end residue. Biodegradable material decomposes and returns to nature completely but they leave behind metal residues. This metal residue turns out to be harmful to the environment.
On the other hand, compostable materials breakdowns completely to form humus which is soil-enriching. This humus is full of nutrients and serves as an excellent organic fertilizer for the soil and plant life to grow.
In summary, compostable products are biodegradable, but with an added benefit. That is, when they break down, they release valuable nutrients into the soil, aiding the growth of trees and plants. Compostable do not leave any metal residue behind since they are made from renewable sources.
Another difference lies in the mode of decomposition. The biodegradable material may decompose in both aerobic and anaerobic conditions depending upon the type of raw material used to make it. But compostable material decomposes typically in aerobic conditions.
Compostable materials require a simulated environment for it to disintegrate. Biodegradable material does not require a controlled environment for the decomposition of waste.
The raw material used for compostable products is natural materials like bamboo, corn, etc. For biodegradable plastic, it could be derived from natural sources like plants, animals or petroleum-based plastics.
Which Is Better: Compostable Or Biodegradable?
Biodegradable and compostable plastics are created to minimize pollution. These plastic types will decompose after a certain period of time. However, there are upsides and downsides to the use of these materials.
1. Carbon Emission Reduction
- One of the advantages related to the use of environment-friendly plastics is the minimal emission of carbon in the air during the process of manufacturing.
- The normal manufacturing of plastics creates 4 tonnes of emissions.
- But these only emit approximately 0.8 tonnes of carbon that add to the greenhouse effect and global warming.
2. Consumes Less Energy
- Their manufacturing process requires less amount of energy and does not need fossil fuels to be recycled.
- Conversely, traditional plastics demand more energy in production and at the same time requires the burning of fossil fuel.
- Since less energy is needed, more biodegradable and compostable products can be manufactured while minimizing pollution in the environment.
3. Less Landfill Area Needed
- Non-biodegradable plastics are brought to landfills to discard them.
- Consequently, land area that could have been used for agriculture, residence or industrial applications is instead converted to landfills.
- If biodegradable and compostable are used, there will be no need for landfills since these plastics can be absorbed by the soil and be converted to compost or humus.
- Apart from taking less time to break down when discarded, compostable plastics can also be recycled and are non-toxic.
- This is because they contain no chemicals or toxins compared to other types of plastics that can emit harmful chemicals, especially if burned.
1. Need For Composters
- The flipside of using these environmentally safe plastics is that there will be a need for industrial composters to turn them into compost.
- The availability of such equipment in some countries can be a problem.
- Apart from the cost, not all countries have the proper equipment especially if this is not the priority of the government.
- In the end, the Eco friendly plastics that need to be processed will not be discarded properly.
2. Engineering Issues
- These are plant-based and this means that they come from organic sources from farms such as soybeans, corn, and bamboo.
- However, these organic plants are sprayed with pesticides that contain chemicals that can contaminate the crops and can be transferred to the finished product.
3. Risk Of Contamination
- Biodegradable plastics should not be mixed with non-biodegradable plastics when thrown in garbage bins.
- The problem here is that not all people know how to segregate or distinguish biodegradable plastics from other plastic types.
- Once these two types of plastics get mixed together, these bioplastics become contaminated and cannot be used anymore.
- Consequently, these contaminated nature friendly plastics will end in landfills and add to the volume of trash.
Biodegradable plastics are becoming popular these days because of the increasing awareness of global warming and environmental issues. Compostable plastics though lesser-known, also present great opportunities if deployed correctly.
The debate shouldn’t be around which is better but about how we can better these technologies. Despite having disadvantages, these will help to focus on the benefits of using environmentally safe plastics and on educating the people on its importance and effects on a global scale.
With the global vision to achieve sustainable development goals by 2030, kicking into these nature friendly solution will be a great start. It will require efforts from everyone’s side to beat plastic pollution.