Wednesday, July 6

Organic plastics alert: not everything ‘bio’ is ‘eco’

Spain, Europe and the world have a problem with plastic garbage: it is huge and lasts for centuries. Spain dumps about 126 tons of plastics into the sea every day. 76% of the waste on Spanish beaches are single-use objects such as cotton buds, straws, cutlery or bottles. With the COVID-19 pandemic, masks and gloves have been added that have increased plastic waste and its environmental impacts, as analyzed by the European Environment Agency.

With the processing of the future Law on Waste and Contaminated Soils and the objective of reducing waste and the search for more ecological alternatives, it is proposed to replace conventional plastics with so-called bioplastics: non-petroleum-derived materials that may or may not be biodegradable. . However, this type of waste is not so bio As they seem, many take years to degrade or need very specific conditions to do so.

According to data from the European Commission, Spain is the fourth country of the European Union that demands more plastic, with more than 3,500 million tons per year. Most of the plastic containers come from fossil fuels such as oil and many of them are disposable, which end up polluting the environment and decomposing into microplastics, which damage ecosystems and even our body. Taking into account the serious problem that plastic poses for the environment, sustainable alternatives to these materials are being sought.

An investigation of the Friends of the Earth organization points out that ‘bioplastics’ can become “one more tool of greenwashing“to create a” label of supposed sustainability “and that aggravates the problem of environmental pollution. Likewise, the report adds that the production of this type of plastics, mostly destined for” non-durable and single-use products “, will increase in the coming years. This entails another sustainability problem: the intensive cultivation processes necessary for vegetables such as corn or beets to supply the generation of tons of plastics with the brand bio.

The confusion caused by these alternatives to conventional plastics, according to the environmental NGO document, is that “not all bio-based materials are biodegradable and compostable and vice versa.” This is because the term is not very specific and encompasses various types of products, which fall into the category of plastics of plant origin, such as cellulose or corn; and conventional plastics that can biodegrade, but under “very specific” conditions.

That is, degrading in the environment or achieving composting with these products does not depend exclusively on the material with which they are made: there may be plastics bio that are not biodegradable or compostable. Friends of the Earth denounces that the term bioplastic “is ambiguous” and that “its use is not regulated, which allows companies to use it freely” due to its “ecological appearance”.

In this sense, another of the keys pointed out by the study is the difference between compostable and biodegradable. Biodegradation is “the ability of a material to be degraded by the natural action of microorganisms”; while composting is “an increased biodegradation in controlled processes”. That is, a compostable plastic will only biodegrade in industrial plants, not in natural or domestic conditions. In this way, a bioplastic bag could be present in the environment for years.

The Friends of the Earth report points out that this substitution of conventional plastic is a “smokescreen” that camouflages what they consider to be the real problem, “the culture of throwaway.