How to Dispose of Bioplastics
Learning to dispose of bioplastics appropriately is crucial to optimizing all of the benefits of using bioplastics opposed to using regular plastic items. Bioplastics are meant to be better for the environment while still retaining the reliability and durability of plastic because they are able to decompose faster and better than regular plastic. However, bioplastics still only dispose well under the right conditions.
The Problem of Plastic
Plastic has long been a material that society has appreciated due to its affordability, durability, and water resistance. Traditional plastic offers many advantages for many industries, but it was built for its in-use properties and not its end-use properties. Plastics do not break down quickly under normal conditions, which means that there’s a large buildup of plastic waste across the globe and in the oceans.
To combat this problem with plastics, scientists and researchers have begun to try to develop plastics such as bioplastics that are meant to biodegrade much easier than traditional plastics.
Common Types of Bioplastics
Bioplastics refer to a large category of biobased polymers with plenty of different facets and corresponding applications. As new materials are discovered, the list continues to grow.
Collection of biobased polyesters such as poly-3-hydroxybutyrate, polyhydroxyalkanoates, polyhydroxyvalerate, polyhydroxyhexanoate, polylactic acid, and polyamide 11.
Created with a combination of cellulose esters and cellulose derivatives.
The fermentation of raw agricultural materials like sugar cane and corn produce a polyethylene.
Made from protein sources such as wheat gluten, casein, and milk.
Often derived from corn starch and mixed with biodegradable polyesters.
BioPlastic Disposal Methods
While bioplastics are supposed to be more biodegradable than traditional plastic, the different combinations of polymers affect how the materials break down. Researchers try to expose the bioplastics to certain environments to determine how the bioplastics best breakdown. Most biodegradable polymers break down into carbon dioxide and methane.
A couple of different disposal scenarios for bioplastic is anaerobic digestion, home composting, and industrial composting.
Anaerobic Digestion – produces more methane
Home Composting – composts at about 82F degrees
Industrial Composting – uses 122F degrees for composting
Note: biodegradable plastics should not be recycled
The key to biodegrading is oxygen, the right microbes, and heat. However, most home composting doesn’t get hot enough to fully break down even biodegradable plastics. Depending on the bioplastic, it may be possible to help it to compost if tossed in with food waste.
Two Main Ways to Dispose of Bioplastic Waste
Non-biodegradable plastics should be recycled through plastic and packaging waste collection. This means that recycling is reprocessed from a used material into a new product. Separated plastics can be re-processed through remelting or granulation to be reused for new products.
Bio-based plastics, such as “BioPE” and “BioPET” can be integrated into recycling streams because they are chemically identical to the fossil-based “PE” and “PET” versions. Meanwhile, other bio-based plastics require their own special recycling process. The volume of bio-based plastic recycling must be large enough to make it economical.
2. Collected & Composted
In some areas, it’s possible to have your bioplastics collected and composted through a biowaste collection. The organic recycling turns into a biowaste that can be used as compost or broken down at a waste incineration plant for renewable energy.
3. Waste Incineration Plants
Bio-based plastics that cannot be disposed of through normal recycling processes can still be useful for energy recovery. In a waste incineration plant, the CO2 from incinerated bio-based plastics can be easily captured again to create new bio-based products.
Biodegradable plastics cannot degrade without the right ingredients, and these environments are most easily created in an industrial composting plant. Most plastics are created with a combination of materials, and various contaminants can hamper composting, especially at home. An industrial composting biowaste can be incorporated into regular compost or for biogas plants as renewable energy.
Will a Bioplastic Dispose well in a Landfill?
No, a landfill is not a sustainable option. Bioplastics are made to be recycled, composted, or used for energy recovery. To place bioplastics in a landfill is to miss the opportunity to dispose of the bioplastics in a way that is useful to the earth and society. Landfills with biodegradable plastics, even fossil and bio-based ones, can result in higher methane emissions, which increases a negative climate impact.
While it’s better to move away from the use of plastics, this cannot always be done easily. Therefore, when you use plastics, choose to dispose of it in a way that honors the earth and the future.
At Golden Arrow, our goal is to manufacture top of the line packaging that is environmentally friendly from start to finish. We do this by prioritizing our material use as well as a zero-emissions factory process. Discover your packaging solutions today!