What is biodegradable plastic and how does it help reduce ocean plastic pollution?

While traditional plastics can leach toxic chemicals into the environment as they are found, well-manufactured biodegradable plastics should break down with few harmful byproducts. Instead, biodegradable plastics release a combination of water, carbon dioxide and biomass (which are often simply leftover plant materials). However, for specific applications, compostable and biodegradable plastic can play a useful role in reducing waste. Compostable takeout containers are a good example, as they can compost the remaining food waste along with the container itself.

Biodegradability additives do not mitigate harm to ocean animals; they are still subject to serious risk before petroleum-based plastic begins to biodegrade. The research also analyzes the variables that influence the adoption of biodegradable plastics and a sustainable framework to improve the long-term viability of biodegradable plastics. Biodegradable plastic doesn't have defined conditions for decomposing in the same way as compostable plastic, and this creates a problem. Once the plastic is in the ocean, the waves shake it up, the sun shines on it and other variables, such as temperature and oxygen levels, cause the plastic to break into pieces.

Biodegradable plastics can also have properties similar to those of traditional plastics and, at the same time, offer additional benefits due to their minimal impact on the environment in terms of carbon dioxide, provided that adequate waste management, such as composting, is contained. Beyond these serious concerns, a limited number of scientific studies have explored whether ocean animals could be subject to possible toxic exposure when plastic enters them. For this reason, biodegradability additives for petroleum-based plastic are an ineffective band-aid for the problem of ocean pollution. Before plastic becomes small enough to enter the interior of ocean animals, it can entangle them and kill or damage them.

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