Biodegrading – Returning to Nature
Biodegrading refers to the process of matter being broken down into carbon dioxide and water by naturally occurring microorganisms. Consumers increasingly seek biodegradable products, including the packaging and other components out of concern for the environment and a commitment to reducing waste and pollution. Businesses are adopting eco-friendly policies to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas (carbon) emissions. Companies are intently seeking alternatives to non-renewable oil and gas, the prices of which can soar unpredictably. Plant-based bio-polymers are gaining in popularity as replacements to petroleum-based materials, such as PET plastic, used in the 50 billion water bottles sold in the U.S. every year.
PLA, a corn-based bioplastic, is being implemented by one major bottler who expects to sell 2 billion of them in 2010. Biodegrading is a key component of PLA which will break down in as few as 45 days under the right conditions. Whereas 17 million barrels of oil are used each year to produce PET, PLA is made from 750 million pounds of corn, a completely renewable and sustainable resource. It can be frozen and thawed repeatedly and is approved by the FDA. It is also recyclable but must be handled separately due to its lower melting point which could cause damage to the equipment.
The National Association of PET Container Resources estimates that only 30% of plastic water bottles are recycled, leaving nearly 70% to wind up in landfills and dumps where they sit for centuries. The new eco-friendly bottles are an environmentally responsible choice from its production through its decomposition. They are made of 100% PLA, making them compostable without polluting or contaminating drinking water. Production of PLA requires 20% – 30% less energy and emits as much as 25% less carbon. It’s being used in a wide range of products, including film wraps and electronic components.
On its website, a municipal solid waste district lays out a biodegrading experiment for kids, using polystyrene packing peanuts and others made of plant starch which are put in separate jars containing water and a composting agent and checked daily for five days. At the end, the kids are asked why the polystyrene peanut does not degrade the same way the starch peanut does, and to speculate about what would happen if they buried one of each in the fall and dug them up in the spring. The answer, of course, is that the plant-based material will break down more completely because of its organic composition.