Why is biodegradable plastic bad for the environment?

Release time:2023-09-18 Number of views: 25

Title: The Dark Side of Biodegradable Plastic: An Environmental Paradox


In recent years, the global concern over plastic pollution has led to the emergence of alternative solutions, including biodegradable plastics. Claiming to be eco-friendly and promoting a greener future, these plastics are disrupting traditional notions surrounding waste management. However, recent studies and scientific evidence suggest that biodegradable plastics may not be the miraculous solution to our environmental woes that we hoped for. This article aims to explore why biodegradable plastics can be bad for the environment, shedding light on the hidden complexities of this seemingly perfect solution.

1. Limited Biodegradability:

Contrary to popular belief, biodegradable plastics do not entirely disappear into thin air. While they do undergo degradation, the process is typically slower and requires specific environmental conditions, such as a high concentration of microorganisms and exposure to sunlight. In reality, landfills and marine environments, where biodegradable plastics often end up, lack these ideal conditions. As a result, these plastics persist in the environment, contributing to the existing problem of plastic pollution.

Figure 1: Comparison of biodegradation rates of common bioplastics in different environments.

Environment Biodegradation rate (% in 3 years)
Compost 85-95%
Aquatic Environment 20-40%
Landfill 10-50%

2. Microplastic Formation:

Biodegradable plastics have the ability to break down into smaller fragments known as microplastics. These tiny particles pose significant threats to marine life and ecosystems. Research has shown that microplastics can enter the food chain, starting from zooplankton, and ultimately impacting humans who consume seafood. Moreover, the potential detrimental effects of microplastics on wildlife, such as suffocation, ingestion, and entanglement, further highlight the darker side of biodegradable plastics.

Figure 2: Percentage distribution of different microplastic sizes in the marine environment.

Microplastic Size Percentage Distribution
Less than 20 μm 40-50%
20-50 μm 30-40%
50-200 μm 20-30%
Greater than 200 μm 5-10%

3. Resources and Energy Consumption:

The production of biodegradable plastics requires significant amounts of resources and energy. The extraction and processing of raw materials, such as plant-based starches or polymers, contribute to deforestation, soil erosion, and increased carbon emissions. Additionally, the energy-intensive manufacturing processes involved in converting these raw materials into bioplastics further strain our limited resources. Consequently, the overall environmental footprint of biodegradable plastics can be surprisingly high.

Figure 3: Environmental impact assessment of various stages in the life cycle of biodegradable plastic.

Life Cycle Stage Environmental Impact
Raw Material Extraction High
Production and Processing High
Transportation Moderate
Product Use Moderate
End-of-Life Disposal Low


Biodegradable plastics, while promising in theory, present a paradoxical situation. Although they offer a potential solution to the plastic pollution crisis, their limitations, including incomplete biodegradability, microplastic formation, and resource-intensive production, make their overall environmental impact unfavorable. Instead of solely relying on biodegradable plastics, it is crucial to focus on reducing single-use plastic consumption, promoting recycling, and investing in sustainable alternative materials. The journey towards a greener planet requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses multiple strategies, of which biodegradable plastics are just one piece of the puzzle.