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Switching To Biodegradable Plastics Could Slash CO2 Emissions

Above photo: Production of biodegradable cutlery at the company Ecozema in Santsoro, Italy. Marco Bulgarelli / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Plastic pollution is one of the biggest global threats to the environment. Not only does it produce an enormous amount of waste, it breaks down to become the ubiquitous microplastics that contaminate drinking water, food and even the human body, while its production contributes to global heating.

A new study, “Replacing Traditional Plastics with Biodegradable Plastics: Impact on Carbon Emissions,” has found that using biodegradable alternatives to replace traditional plastic products would lead to a substantial reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

“In recent years, a great deal of attention has been focused on the environmental impact of plastics, including the carbon emissions related to plastics, which has promoted the application of biodegradable plastics,” the study, published in the journal Engineering, said. “Countries worldwide have shown high interest in replacing traditional plastics with biodegradable plastics. However, no systematic comparison has been conducted on the carbon emissions of biodegradable versus traditional plastic products.”

The researchers looked at the four life-cycle stages of biodegradable plastic products (BPPs) and traditional plastics to calculate their respective carbon emissions. The stages include the acquisition of raw materials, plastics production, manufacturing of products and waste disposal, Engineering said.

The researchers found that replacing traditional plastic products with BPPs in China could mean a drastic reduction in yearly carbon emissions.

An analysis of 1,000 traditional plastic products — like meal boxes, plastic bags, straws and cups — revealed carbon emissions ranging from between 52.09 to 150.36 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent. Meanwhile, the same number of similar BPPs emitted just 21.06 to 56.86 kilograms — a reduction of 13.53 to 62.19 percent.

“The difference was mainly at the stages of plastic production and waste disposal, and the BPPs showed significant carbon reduction potential at the raw material acquisition stage. Waste disposal plays an important role in environmental impact, and composting and anaerobic digestion are considered to be preferable disposal methods for WBBPs [(waste biodegradable plastic product)],” the study said.

One of the roadblocks bioplastics have faced is price.

“[T]he high cost of biodegradable plastics is a challenge for their widespread use,” the study said.

The researchers pointed out that, in order to enhance bioplastics sustainability, it will be necessary to develop waste disposal methods and production technologies that are more economical.

“This study has important reference significance for the sustainable development of the biodegradable plastics industry,” the authors of the study wrote.

By quantifying BPPs’ environmental benefits and pinpointing the best methods to dispose of them, the scientists have provided a useful reference for industry leaders, other researchers and policymakers in the development of a sustainable BPP industry and a greener future for the planet.

Bioplastics are at the forefront of a material revolution. With their diverse types and applications, they hold the promise of a more sustainable future, where our reliance on fossil fuels is significantly reduced, and materials are in harmony with the environment. As we continue to innovate and advance in this field, bioplastics are poised to play a crucial role in shaping a greener, more sustainable world,” I’m Plastic Free reported.

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