Shifting to Biodegradable Plastics

Jun 08, 2019

“If we don’t do anything about this, 50 years down the road we will have more plastic than fish in the ocean…” Ellen MacArthur, a renown retired English Sailor proclaimed

Quoting the words of Ellen MacArthur, ‘if we don’t do anything about this,50 years down the road will have more plastic than fish…” The statement is a true reflection of how plastic disposal are becoming rampant and heavily affecting aquatic life.

It seems the prolonged adverts from TV ads showing ducks or dolphins trapped in six-ring plastic can holder’s does not click to our conscious on dangers we’ve exposed these animals into. Its unrealized how the prolonged damage it crawling to the worlds ecosystem, and soon will burst into massive destructions.

Plastics are affecting even the world tiniest organisms, such as plankton. Once they consume micro plastics causes problems also the larger animals that are dependent on them for food. This escalates slew of problems, each step further along the food chain. It also implies that plastics are in the fish body and finds their way to human after the consumption of the fish. 

Further nuisance of plastics is experienced in land pollutions. When dumped in landfills, plastics interacts with water to form dangerous chemicals which seeps underground and affect the quality of water. Additionally, when left unattended, they are blown around by the wind causing land litter and can easily cause animal and human suffocation.

 It is not clear whether we will be able to fully do away with plastics because they turned out to be a significant and ubiquitous material in our economy due to their multiple usage. For instance, the lightweight plastics have been used by manufacturers to produce products used in the automobile and aviation industry and saved on operational costs. Additionally, they are cheap and readily available for packaging and storing.

However, as long as they remain non-degradable, their existence remains a threat to the world. 

Researchers now believe the introduction of biodegradable plastics is the environmentally friendly alternative for the everyday plastics. Although they release ghg emissions, their decomposition takes 3-6 months- which is better than that of conventional plastics that take several hundreds of years. Moreover, their structure is composed of petrochemicals, which easily break down by hydrolysis.

The good news is that trends toward biodegradable plastics have been observed. The EU, in a bid to wage war against plastics, formulated a model that sought to integrate the biodegradable plastics into their economy. This process requires the mobilizing of the national authorities, regional authorities, cities, and citizens to commit to making the model a success. The European Union bore this idea in 2015 when it adopted the EU Action Plan for a circular economy. It identified plastic as a key priority, consequently leading to the preparation of a strategy addressing challenges brought about by plastics. It focuses on having plastics on the shelf to be either reusable or recycle at a low cost. 

Recently, Simon Fraser University (SFU) and Swiss researchers have teamed up to produce a 3D solution for producing wireless Internet-of- things sensors(IOT) to be used in electronic devices that will have no environmental effect when disposed of. The solution is said to be drawn from wood cellulose. This might be a breakthrough to the production of sustainable electronics.

On the one hand, the UN Environment reports that Africa has made progress in tackling the issue of plastics. In Kenya, for instance, the UN Environment has partnered with Safaricom and the National Environment Management Agency for an end-to-end waste management program. The report also gives examples of other African countries making an effort. However, biodegradable plastic remains a topic of discussion in some countries.

There have been concerns through on the cost-effectiveness of biodegradable plastics. It is evident that this journey of transformation may revolutionize the whole packaging industry while introducing consumers to a different world. Some of the challenges identified call for the need for boosting the demand for recycled materials. Consumers will have to come to terms with a change of product design to enable the product to be recyclable.

Quality Standards for sorted plastics and recycled plastics need to be developed to enable smoother market operations at a large scale.

Challenges linked to the production, consumption, and distribution of plastics are global and therefore require harnessed global action to tackle. It is an opportunity to allow innovations to take flight and increase competitiveness in the industries.

All the concentrated efforts toward shifting to biodegradable plastics, contributes immensely to the achievement of the global Sustainable Development Goals, further more It will be a channel for achieving a low-carbon and circular economy while improving human capital and enhancing optimized productivity.



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