Environment

The Future of Sustainability: Exploring Biodegradable Materials

Introduction

With the increasing rate of plastic pollution, wastes and landfills the pressure to produce sustainable and ecological materials to replace the plastic and other non-degradable products has been on the rise. A specific area of rapidly growing concern and the focus of much research is the creation of adequate biodegradable materials originating from renewable sources and capable of degrading within the environment without negative impact.

In this article, the author will also focus on investigating the advancements, uses, advantages and disadvantages of a list of potential biodegradable materials that can substitute the traditional non-degradable ones in several fields. To this, we will also discuss the effects that biodegradable and non-biodegradable wastes have on the environment and why biodegradability is the key quality for creating a circular economy and a sustainable future.

What Are Biodegradable Materials?

Biodegradable material is one that has the capability to degrade into natural products by the activities of natural microorganism and enzymes present. Some of the final outcomes of this process are water, carbon dioxide, methane, and some organic compost.

Biodegradable materials can be processed from reprocess resources and also from non-reprocess fossil fuel resources. Biodegradable materials come from stoked sources such as agricultural crops, wood pulp, and algae unlike the conventional fossil fuels. These renewable sources make biodegradables more sustainable in the longer run since the materials for their production can be regrown at a comparatively faster rate without any depletion of natural resources.

As has been discussed earlier, biodegradable materials present a number of advantages, which include:

There are several key advantages that quality biodegradable materials can offer compared to conventional oil-based plastics and polymers:There are several key advantages that quality biodegradable materials can offer compared to conventional oil-based plastics and polymers:

 Lower the amount of plastic waste – Since biodegradable products decompose over time, thus do not remain in the environment for centuries like plastics, if the products made from them get into the market, their use can dramatically decrease the amount of waste, litter, and pollution.

  • Minimal ecological effects – Biodegradables have less COOs, energy consumption during production is low, CFCs emissions are low and there is less dependence on fossil fuel raw materials.
  •  Incorporate some into mainstream recyclability – Some biodegradables can be recycled along with conventional plastics, enabling more hybrid closed-loop material cycles. The former are transformed into organic matter rather than being disposed off permanently after…
  •  Better aeration – When biodegradables decay, they help to loosen the soil and release gasses that can be used by plants for aeration. This also reduces the use of artificial fertilizers which are derived from fossil fuels.
  • Eliminate microplastic – Unlike other plastics that decompose into dangerous microplastic particles which are nearly permanent and easily circulate through water and food chains, most biodegradables do not disperse long-lasting microplastics that can pollute the environment.

Key Industries and Applications

There is enormous potential for biodegradable materials to substitute conventional non-sustainable counterparts in various industries, including:There is enormous potential for biodegradable materials to substitute conventional non-sustainable counterparts in various industries, including:

The most prominently mentioned use is for everyday use items which have short lifespans like consumer goods and packaging material including; bags, food containers, bottles, wrappers, straws, and packaging foams. These form a huge portion of the non-recyclable waste but could be substituted with eco-friendly products made from raw materials such as cornstarch, cellulose, seaweed, and palm leaves.

Clothing and textile : A lot of clothes are made from non-recyclable materials such as polyester and nylon, which represent 60% of fabric waste today; however, there are start-up phases in textile fibers and finishes made of orange peels, mushroom roots and milk protein that can make the clothes industry significantly less damaging. This not only includes giant fashion brands, but they are also spending more on how to grow the biodegradable material.

Agriculture : There are existing processes in place to further expand the use of biodegradable clips, ties, nets and films that are used in agriculture since plastic waste can be left scattered around large fields after use. Other biodegradable mulching films in the pipeline are the bio-based biodegradable mulching films that besides improving crop yields are designed to break down into the soil afterwards.

Health care products : A vast majority of conventional polymers used in making bandages, hospital gowns, medical instruments and implants, drug capsules etc. are burnt or sent to landfill sites. New classes of biodegradable materials are enabling specific medical technologies and products to disintegrate via natural processes within the human body at predetermined intervals.

Consumer electronics : Some electronics companies are trying to find out concepts of biodegradable electronics devices, batteries, and electronics parts using modified woods, silk proteins, mycelium composites and algae etc., in order to minimize e-waste discharge to the landfill. They are still mostly in the early stages of development of the so-called working prototypes which still need more research.

Major Considerations on the Distribution and Diffusion of the App

Despite the clear environmental benefits, there are a number of technological and systemic barriers slowing the widespread adoption of biodegradable materials across different product sectors:Despite the clear environmental benefits, there are a number of technological and systemic barriers slowing the widespread adoption of biodegradable materials across different product sectors:

  • Cost – The drawbacks of biodegradable products are that it normally costs more to produce these products than it does to produce the typical oil and gas plastics. Reducing the costs will be possible once we discover technologies that are mature enough to allow scaling up the production levels.
  •  Performance – Some of the current bioplastics’ performance characteristics such as stability and durability are still in the process of enhancement, and as such, they do not compare well with conventional plastics in many uses. It cannot be overemphasized that there is the need to continue to invest in research and innovation.
  •  Compatibility with the infrastructure – Waste recycling systems, waste collection programs, composting and industrial supply chains for renewed material are developed primarily for non-biodegradable waste, which hinders easy integration of new materials. There needs to be a high degree of system level interventions.
  •  Consumer understanding – The public is often confused between the terms “bioplastics” and “biodegradable”, some companies also promote false sustainability campaigns. Better certification, setting of standard and marketing aimed at establishing the factual positive impact on the environment is however necessary for increasing consumption.

 Low composting and collection – Despite the fact that some bioplastics bear the certified compostable label, they will not degrade unless a high heat industrial composting method is used. Thus, an increase in the compost and the collection facilities, with the usage of biodegradable material is necessary.

Biodegradable Products or Non Biodegradable Products – Which is Environment Friendly

The sustainability impacts of biodegradables are complex, but when correctly identified, collected and handled after use, they offer superior environmental performance to conventional non-biodegradable alternatives across areas like:The sustainability impacts of biodegradables are complex, but when correctly identified, collected and handled after use, they offer superior environmental performance to conventional non-biodegradable alternatives across areas like:

Landfill Waste and Pollution

  •  Most non-biodegradables (especially the petrochemical plastics) in landfills may take several hundred years to decompose while releasing toxic substances for relatively long periods.
  •  This is true because biodegradables are processed faster when they are properly certified, and therefore, they take up less overall space in the landfill. Those with plant-based materials also sequester renewable atmospheric carbon.

Litter and Ocean Plastic

  •  PLA or other biodegradable plastics have a relatively short time frame for decomposition while non-biodegradable plastic litter may remain for decades after entering the environment or the oceans.
  •  Biodegradables in similar contexts will degrade faster because the whole process is affected by conditions such as UV light, water content and oxygen levels.

Recyclability and CIRCE Integration

  •  Most non-biodegradable plastics are produced in this linear system in which the product is disposed of after one use.
  •  It can either be industrially composted to generate nutrients or be recycled together with traditional plastic under some circumstances that allow more numbers of circulatory materials.

Microplastic Pollution

  •  Non-biodegradable plastics decompose into micro- and nanoplastics at a very slow rate that may take over hundreds of years. They build up in various ecosystems and food chains leading to health and environmental impacts that are not fully understood.
  •  A majority of officially certified biodegradable products do not discharge non-biodegradable microplastics into environments during degradation.

Toxicity and Health Risks

  •  Some chemical additives employed in non biodegradable plastics such as plasticizers can take three decades or more to be released into the landfills and oceans. Some chronic findings are documented, but there are limited well-controlled, long-term health outcome studies that measure small changes.
  •  When it comes to biodegradables derived from plants and other natural products, they are slightly less toxic than the others with an overall application of less stabilizing chemical agents during the manufacture and during the biodegradation process.

With the use of fossil fuel, we come to the following impacts:

  •  The traditional plastics that are non-biodegradable sources rely on large quantities of fossil fuels to serve as the basal manufacturing materials. Using and later burning also releases a significant amount of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
  • Biodegradables rely on renewable plant based raw materials and have less overall energy requirements during manufacturing and disposal which decreases the net carbon footprint.

The key qualification for the above claimed sustainability benefits relates to proper disposal or in the case of biodegradable products, the disposal at compost facilities or, at a minimum, facilities that capture methane produced by faster decomposition processes in landfill systems. When biodegradable materials still become general litter, or they are less actively managed solid waste, then the intended advantages are limited or erased completely.

Strengthening the Framework Towards More Enduring Biodegradable Material Systems

Realizing the promise of biodegradability to mitigate the rising environmental strains associated with non-renewable plastics will require continued innovation and investment alongside enabling policy environments that facilitate the following transitions on a systemic level:Realizing the promise of biodegradability to mitigate the rising environmental strains associated with non-renewable plastics will require continued innovation and investment alongside enabling policy environments that facilitate the following transitions on a systemic level:

  • Better waste collection systems and bio-waste compost plants that would be able to sort out materials that are biodegradable in nature.
  • Development of new systems of closed-loop recycling technology that are able to recycle both biodegradable materials and traditional plastics.
  • Optimizing the production capacities and lengthening of supply chains to source the promising materials, such as cellulose and algae, at reduced costs.
  • Optimizing the product formulations, manufacturing proces and application techniques to improve the performance characteristics which are desirable and closer to non-biodegradable products in view for replacement.
  • Stronger checks and controls, and better requirements on veracity in the biodegradable characteristics assessment for different environments to avoid deception in sustainability that leads to reduced trust from consumers and law enforcement agencies.

Studying low-centralized micro-factories and on-demand manufacturing solutions that can provide biodegradables with quick response and proper custom manufacturing near the local markets and materials.

Conclusion

The ongoing momentum, funding, and technological advancements in the biodegradable material industry give us real reasons to believe that cost-effective, high-functioning and truly eco-friendly substitutes can triumph over normal plastics and polymers in a number of categories in the coming years.

To realize this potential at scale it will nevertheless require a broad and ambitious transitional programme for developing the necessary infrastructural capacity for upgrading the technology of recycling and the organizing of that process for these low value, non renewable, material systems along with skills development and supply chain management at home and overseas, as well as the well understood advances in core technologies all of which are needed to address the staggering waste problem endemic to such systems.

Through collaborative action by the public, private and civic sectors, biodegradable materials can lay the foundation for vastly more circular and even regenerative economies that can deliver prosperity for businesses and societies alongside the healing of ecosystems that are the source of life and well-being for us all.

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