A recent article from BioPlastics Magazine shed light on an interesting development of Biodegradable plastics. Written by Ramani Narayan, a distinguished professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science of Michigan State University in the United States, this article approached the claims made by biodegradable plastic and the science behind each product.
The article addresses the claims of biodegradable PVC products, biodegradability PET products and biodegradable PE products. Each were found to be lacking the scientific justification that this solution is environmentally responsible.
“Unfortunately, there is a growing number of misleading, deceptive and scientifically biodegradability claims proliferating in the marketplace.” Narayan stated int he article.
Some important points were highlighted in the article for your attention.
What is Biodegradability
This dictionary definition is:
(biodegradable) capable of being decomposed by e.g. bacteria
It is an end of life option that harnesses the power of microrganisms, like bacteria present in the soil, to completely remove the substance from the environment in an efficient and safe manner.
In the world of plastics, a biodegradable card would be disposed of in a landfill and dissolve using the microorganisms present in the soil.
The Trouble with Soil
This can pose a particular problem. Soil across the world is all made up of different composition, with different environmental factors. Also, there are additional environments outside of soil. Plastic can make its way into oceans and rivers.
As Narayan mentions, ” because it is an end-of-life option, and harnesses microorganisms present in the selected disposal environment, one must clearly identify the disposal environment when discussing or reporting on the biodegradability of a product… Specifying time to complete biodegradation or …time to complete microbial assimilation of the test plastic in the selected disposal environment is an essential requirement – so stating that it will eventually biodegrade or it is partially biodegradable is not acceptable.”
More information about the specifics of a biodegradable product is necessary to be able to determine the validity of the “green” claims.
Biodegradable PVC Product Claim
This product claims to use “special ingredients” to attract the microorganisms that begin to breakdown the PVC plastic. They claim that the PVC is broken down into water, salt and carbon dioxide. Yet, from the study offered at Michigan State University, “there is no scientific stata provided to substantiate the complete breakdown and utalisation of the PVC by the microorganisms present in the disposal system… The proposed mechanistic chemistry would not pass muster in a high school honours chemistry classroom”
Yet, we are seeing large corporations across Africa, even a manufacturer or two, embracing this solution as a “green” option for plastic cards. But, according to this article, the science is off and there are no actual facts to endorse the claims that this product biodegrades. The disposal environment was not specified, and may not even be present outside test environments, if at all.
There are many more such examples of misleading claims. Several offer weight loss and other chemical evidence for the break down of the plastic. However, there is little evidence offered to prove that the fragments of plastic are consumed by the microorganisms present in the environment over a reasonable time period.
But, some did biograde!
In the few cases offered in this paper, Narayan mentions that a few did partially biodegrade, and continues, “However, if one obtains only 5% or 30% or even 40% biodegration, there are serious health and environmental consequences caused by the non-degraded fragments as it moves through the eco compartments… Unfortunately, all the focus is on demonstrating the break down or degration…but no data on how much and in what time frame did the microorganisms present in the in the disposal environment consume the carbon food.”
This is where things get tricky. Decomposition of the plastic into fragments is especially dangerous to the ecosystem and if the plastic is not completely consumed by the microorganisms, it poses a great risk to the environment. Just because it partially degrades, does not mean that it is actually helping the planet!
What does this mean?
The take home message here is clear. Validate the claims made by your printers, and by your manufacturers before placing orders. Gimmicks and Green Washing abound and can be tricky to navigate through, however, the effort to weed through the gimmicks is worth the effort to choose a truly responsible solution for our Earth.
CardsPlus is committed to providing fully inclusive customised plastic card solutions. We do this with help from our unique combination of speedy service, flexibility, knowledge, commitment to quality and support.
We’re proud to have helped thousands of African companies get the most from their plastic cards. Read more about us on http://www.cardsplus.co.za/