We often hear about biodegradable products without knowing exactly what they are, what benefits they have, or even what the difference is between a product that is biodegradable, and one that is not. The truth is that, with all the challenges that our environment is facing, many companies are looking to improve their products or services to make them more environmentally friendly: that is why many of them ask us for advice on eco-design at Kaeltia. But, what does biodegradable mean, and why is it so important nowadays for the planet… but also for all sorts of enterprises?
What is a biodegradable product?
Biodegradation is defined as the capacity of certain materials to decompose in nature into the chemical elements that form them, by the action of biological and/or environmental agents, in a relatively short time, thus integrating into the natural cycle without leaving toxic residues or polluting the environment, and even contributing with nutrients to the soil.
In this definition, it is important to talk about timeframes: that is, materials can normally decompose over time by various means, but while some take only weeks and produce a biodegradable (environmentally non-toxic) waste, others take years or even centuries, and in the process release substances that are toxic to the nature.
What is biodegradable plastic, also known as bioplastic?
Among the biodegradable products or materials, one that has been gaining importance in recent years due to its many, many advantages for the environment, is bioplastic: this is a material similar to conventional plastic, but in this case it is composed of polymers of natural origin, which means that it decomposes in a short time in the environment.
The traditional plastic that we usually use, since it is made from petroleum derivatives or other hydrocarbons (fossil fuels), causes a great harm to the environment as it does not decompose in nature by the action of microorganisms, taking centuries or even thousands of years: therefore, these plastics end up accumulating and causing all kinds of problems.
Although – in theory – conventional plastic can be recycled, in practice recycling plastic remains difficult and expensive (more expensive than making new plastic): worldwide, it is estimated that only 9% of plastic is recycled, while more than 50% accumulates in landfills and more than 20% ends up polluting the environment. Incineration of plastic, on the other hand, solves the problem of non-biodegradation… but it is equally expensive, produces various toxins that are hazardous to human health and the environment, and is a waste of resources.
Bioplastics are biodegradable products that have come as a solution to all the problems of conventional plastic; a field in which they are having great success is in rubbish bags and other types of disposable materials, especially in the field of medicine (prostheses, sutures, gloves, etc.). Thus, if these materials end up in a landfill or in nature, since they are biodegradable, they decompose in a matter of months. Bioplastics are also one of the most useful materials when it comes to manufacturing all kinds of biodegradable packaging to wrap products.
Why is it important to use biodegradable materials?
It is not just bioplastic bags: in general, we increasingly find products produced from biodegradable materials in everyday single-use objects; the use of these materials – which can range from soybean oil or corn, to potato starch – is increasing especially to manufacture compostable food packaging: starch plates, cutlery made from seed paste, cups and food wrappings made from recycled sugar cane…
We often are not aware of the impact that some actions that apparently seem simple and harmless, can have on the environment just because of not using biodegradable materials. Let’s take a look at the time it takes to degrade for some of the materials we use or see every day:
- cigarette butts: 2 years
- chewing gum: 5 years
- lighters: up to 100 years
- plastic bags or packages: 150 years
- plastic can rings: 450 years
- plastic bottles: up to 1,000 years
- batteries: 1,000 years (also release highly toxic substances)
- glass bottles: 4,000 years
It’s quite impressive to see these figures, isn’t it? That is why it is so important to use products that are biodegradable, because thus we avoid all the pollution and environmental impact generated by the disposable products we often use. Among all the benefits of biodegradable materials, we can mention the following:
Less impact on the environment:
as they decompose in a short time, they have less impact on the environment and cause fewer problems (e.g. animals trapped by plastics, or choking when swallowed).
Low CO2 emissions:
biodegradable products generate during their production and decomposition less CO2 emissions, the main gas causing climate change.
Nourish the earth:
many of these biodegradable materials are made from completely natural elements, so when they decompose they generate nutrients and fertilise the soil.
since they do not generate toxic waste and decompose rapidly, these materials prevent the pollution of land, rivers and seas.
Prevent landfills saturation:
due to their rapid biodegradation, they do not accumulate for years or centuries, clogging up landfills and forcing to open new ones.
as they are made from natural elements, products with biodegradable materials generate fewer allergies among humans compared to synthetic materials.
both their production and cost are cheaper in the long run, thus saving money.
What biodegradable materials can you find in the market or at home?
Actually, it’s not very difficult to easily find such biodegradable materials; although it is only in recent years that many companies have started to use them in their products, examples of biodegradable materials such as branches, dry leaves, wood, wool, paper, cardboard, etc., which decompose easily without leaving toxic residues, can be found in any home.
In addition, it is increasingly common to find people buying biodegradable products, such as some cleaning products and detergents (usually free of phosphates), paints based on natural pigments, sun creams, nappies, coffee capsules, bioplastic or paper bags, packaging made from natural raw materials… So, as you can see, they are more common than you might think before.
As you can see, nowadays companies have more and more alternatives available to them to reduce the negative impact they cause on the environment; now, they can adopt better practices that care for the planet and are more sustainable, thanks to the eco-design of their products and production processes. And this is where Kaeltia Consulting comes in, advising companies to optimise their resources, improve their costs and adopt solutions – such as using biodegradable products – that are more respectful of our environment.