by Garrett Valentino
Bioplastics, plastics made from renewable resources, have many benefits over petroleum based plastics. They are better for the environment, reduce our dependency for oil, and will not leach toxic chemicals and phthalates into people from personal contact with plastic products. They can be composted, chemically recycled, or incinerated.
When petroleum based plastics are incinerated, as in the medical industry, dioxins are released into the atmosphere. Many scientists have stated that dioxins are one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet. They will travel in the upper atmosphere for thousands of miles, and at some point will drop back to earth. They land on oceans, forests, even cow pastures. Cows will eat the grass, and the dioxins are stored in their body fat. We then eat the cows, and ingest cancer causing dioxins.
However, there are limitations to bioplastic resins. They cost substantially higher than petroleum resins. They disrupt the recycling stream. There are many products which can be exposed to high heat, extreme cold, or a prolonged shelf life, which bioplastic resins are simply not a compatible choice. Bioplastic products which contain liquids, may also have an issue with oxygen permeability, evaporation and oxidation.
Another alternative is oxo-degradable plastics. Oxo-degradable plastics are regular (petroleum) plastics that have been mixed with additives to make the plastic degrade over time. These additives use metal ions to create weak links in the polymer chain which oxidize to create brittle plastic reducing the visible plastic. Oxo-degradable products break down through exposure to light and oxygen.
Although oxo-degradable plastics break down, there has been no data to show that oxo-degradable products completely degrade, this leaves concern of heavy metals and chemicals (plastic polymers, Cobalt, Cadmium and other toxic residue) in the ground and oceans. Oxo-degradables are not biodegradable: they are simply degradable. It is important to understand that degradation is simply the loss of physical properties and does not necessarily include actual breakdown of the polymer chain or monomer.
Another problem with oxo-degradable plastics is that they require oxygen, heat and UV in order to break down. These conditions are NOT found in landfills and will result in the products existing for many, many years. The simple fact that oxo-degradable products weaken the polymer chain and have a limited life span, makes successful recycling of these products very unlikely unless extremely diluted with standard polymers.
However, it turns out that there is another additive out there that is not an “oxo-degradable” additive, that actually will allow plastic to become truly biodegradable.
Our bioplastics company, Bioplastics International, completed an in depth one year research of the plastic additives on the market. We discovered a pure organic microbial additive that will work for all plastics, and is approved for food contact by the FDA and EU, as well as both FTC and REACH compliant. It is certified legally biodegradable by ASTM D5511 and ASTM D5526.
We have partnered with the manufacturer, a United States company, and we now offer it to customers as the finest organic additive available on the market. Unlike others, this one is a specially formulated additive to create biodegradable polymers without sacrificing the beneficial properties of the primary polymer including recyclability. This type of technology is fairly new to the polymer market, yet well tested and validated. To create the biodegradable material, the manufacturer adds specific renewable nutrients and organic compounds into the polymer which, once discarded, allows microbial action to colonize in and around the plastic and completely metabolize the polymer. The end result being inert humus (biomass) and biogas (anaerobic) or Co2 (aerobic).
Products with 1% of this organic additive are biodegradable in anaerobic (no oxygen, no light), and aerobic (with oxygen) environments, this includes common landfills. Landfills basically act as a bioreactor for microbes. In order for plastics to properly break down, tiny microscopic organisms must find the discarded products an irresistible morsel, and begin consuming it bite by bite. Only then, can the item be broken down entirely. Traditional plastics are unattractive to microbes and therefore inedible. This organic microbial additive will allow plastic products to biodegrade at a rate of 33% every 10 months, with some plastics at a faster rate. No additives will create compostable plastics.
All plastics made with a microbial organic additive are completely recyclable and should be comingled with existing plastics recycling. Scientific data and independent recyclers support that these products will not contaminate recycle streams as the material used does not impact the polymer chain in any way. Microbial additives can be used with PE, PP, PS, PVC, PET, PC, and rubber. If needed on a case by case basis, the organic microbial additive can even be blended or created for specialty resins.
We are a bioplastics company, so we love promoting plastics made from truly renewable resources. We feel that there really is a need to develop bioplastics in the future. However, just as there is a time and place for bioplastics, there is also a time and place for additives. We just need to make sure we focus on the additives that truly can create a biodegradable alternative to traditional plastics. We all need to preserve the environment not only for ourselves, but for future generations.