Is it more important to recycle or be biodegradable?
Los Angeles, CA (The Open Press) December 31, 2008 -- It's almost impossible to imagine a world without plastic; it's used for so many things we do as a normal part of our lives. Our newspaper is wrapped in plastic to keep it from getting damaged; our dry cleaning comes covered in plastic; farmers use special poly mulch films to help protect their crops. Important items sent through the mail are protected in special poly mailers and businesses use poly security deposit bags to keep their funds safe. The word ubiquitous definitely applies to the presence of plastic in our lives - it is encountered everywhere!
There has been concern recently about what all this plastic is doing to the environment. After all, we throw a lot of it away. Those poly mailers go in the trash once you've opened them. The plastic covers on your dry-cleaning come off before you hang up your clothes. The constant consumption of plastic goods has led to a massive problem with litter and waste disposal. In order to protect the environment there are two choices - make the plastic bio-degradable or recycle it.
Recycling has been popular in the US since the 1990s. Recycling allows us to recover and reprocess materials into new products in order to prevent waste and reduce the consumption of fresh raw materials, energy usage, air pollution, water pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Plastic is not the only material that gets recycled - glass, paper, metal, textiles, aluminum and even electronics are also being recycled. Every ton of glass recycled saves the equivalent of nine gallons of fuel oil needed to make glass from virgin materials and at least 30% of glass containers on grocery store shelves can be recycled. Every ton of plastic is equivalent to 11 barrels of oil or 462 gallons of oil as well as the reduction of 13 to 17 trees destroyed and associated power and pollution that are associated with the manufacture of one ton of paper.
One example of recycling is melting down plastic soft drink bottles and making designer clothes from them. Even automobiles are being designed to make recycling of their large plastic parts easier. To assist recycling of plastic disposable items, the Plastic Bottle Institute, a division of the Society of the Plastics Industry, devised the system to mark plastic bottles by plastic type. Plastics that are not recycled actually create a valuable service in our landfills. They trap methane gas which is generated so that little reaches the surface to kill living plants and can be captured for use as natural gas.
Biodegradable plastics are plastics that will decompose in the natural environment. This can be achieved by enabling microorganisms in the environment to metabolize the molecular structure of plastic films to produce a mature compost-like material that is less harmful to the environment. A recent study by the Quebec Industrial Research Centre, found that biodegradable plastics are not compatible with traditional plastic recycling methods, because the starches used to make the bags break-down in the environment, can contaminate batches of other plastics being melted down for recycling. Take care to keep these plastics out of recycling.
So is it better to use biodegradable plastic or recycle the plastic we use every day? The jury is still out on biodegradables. There have been few, if any, independent studies on the effect of these two methods, but case studies in many countries have shown that recycling has a marked positive impact on waste disposal, the environment, and the reduction of raw materials such as oil, natural gas, and our forests. One such study from the European Union says reuse of packaging and packaging waste is one of the priority instruments which should be used in order to prevent harm to the environment.
PolyPAK America, a leading manufacturer of specialty plastic and poly bags, film and other products, supports recycling. "We at PolyPak America realize the importance that we improve the environment in which we live," said the company's President. "Our major products; plastic envelopes, security bags and heavy duty shipping bags reduce the need for trees and the energy and pollution that is required to make paper. In our plastic envelopes we use up to 35% recycled materials and many of our customers are now requesting recycled material to be used in their specific product. Recycling is clean, we reheat the plastic material place it through a dye to make strands and then cut it off to form small pellets.
I feel uncomfortable with biodegradables at this time because the word "biodegradable" has not been defined with regard to plastics. In my opinion there are no unbiased tests results available that prove biodegradability.
Since 1972, we have been a large contributor to a healthier environment by using recycled plastic and staying abreast of the latest trends."