Sunday, October 2, 2022

Commentary: Biodegradable plastic may not be so biodegradable after all

NOT ALL SOURCES OF PLASTIC WASTE HAVE BEEN TACKLED

The new government funding for plastic recycling technologies targets waste that’s notoriously difficult to deal with, such as bread bags and chip packets.

However, this still leaves a substantial stream of waste that’s even more challenging to address. This includes agricultural waste dispersed in the environment, such as mulch films, which can be difficult to collect for recycling.

Biodegradable and bio-based plastics have great potential to replace such problematic plastics. But, as they continue to gain market share, the confusion and complexity around biodegradable plastics must be addressed.

For starters, a better understanding of how they impact the environment is needed. It’s also crucial to align consumer expectations with those of manufacturers and producers and to ensure these plastics are appropriately disposed of and managed at the end of their life.

This is what we’re investigating as part of a new training center for bioplastics and biocomposites. Our goal over the next five years is to improve knowledge for developing better standards and regulations for certifying, labeling and marketing “green” plastic products.

And with that comes greater opportunity for better education so both plastic producers and people who throw them away really understand these materials. We should be familiar with their strengths, weaknesses and how to dispose of them so we can minimize the damage that they inflict on the environment.

Bronwyn Laycock, Paul Lant and Steven Pratt are Professors of Chemical Engineering at the University of Queensland. This comment first appeared in The Conversation.

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