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Plastic can be a problem. It might seem strange for a company called “Plastic Place” to acknowledge such a thing, but it is absolutely true. While the invention of plastic has done a massive amount for humanity, revolutionizing everything from sanitation to health care, no technological advance comes without its price. Improperly discarded plastic is one of the most urgent problems facing the environment today. According to the U.S. Environmental Agency, only 8% of the 31 million tons of plastic waste produced each year is recycled. Much of the rest ends up as litter and pollution, clogging waterways, threatening wildlife, and releasing potentially toxic chemicals into the earth. Being so aware of this conflict is what drives our commitment to finding greener ways of dealing with trash, especially when it comes to the production and disposal of plastic bags.
When Biodegradable Garbage Bags first arrived on the scene, they were hailed as the scientific breakthrough that would cure all the problems that plastic can create. The idea of a plastic that would behave and break down just like a natural material seemed too good to be true. Was it? We took a look at the facts and found out.
What does “biodegradable” actually mean?
First it will help to define the sometimes confusing terms which are often used interchangeably when discussing biodegradable plastics.
“Regular” plastic is a synthetic material created from petrochemicals. Without getting too deep into the science, the long polymer chains in regular plastic are so resilient and resistant to breakdown that they can last for hundreds of years.
Biodegradable Clothes Bags, which are also made from petrochemicals, are manufactured differently so that they can begin to break down quickly in the presence of air and sunshine. You might see this plastic labeled as photodegradable or oxy degradable.
Bioplastic is made from organic, renewable sources, such as vegetable oils, corn, and grains.
Compostable plastic, which is usually bioplastic, doesn’t just break down: as it decomposes, it will create humus, which adds valuable nutrients to the soil.
One of the first problems with “biodegradable plastic” was that in the early days there was no consensus on what qualified as biodegradable. Dubious claims abounded as companies rushed to get on the green bandwagon and made all kind of promises to consumers that were not actually true. Eventually, the Federal Trade Commission stepped in with a strict set of guidelines defining exactly what could and could not be labeled as biodegradable.
The limitations of biodegradable plastic
“Returning to nature” is a pretty poetic idea, but is that actually what happens when Biodegradable Pet Poop Bags arrive at the landfill? The problem with the FTC guidelines is that some extremely important factors are completely left out.
First of all, the “reasonably short period of time” is not defined. It could mean any amount of time from a week to several years.