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Why are we still using non-biodegradable plastic?

Image credit: https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0828/6805/products/PB1117-0.48_2048x.jpg?v=1554245953

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Povilas S
Povilas S Oct 22, 2020
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Necessity

Is the problem still unsolved?

Conciseness

Is it concisely described?

Why are ordinary plastics still dominating production? What are the main obstacles preventing their full replacement by biodegradable ones?

This related session has led to thoughts on how we should put more effort into eliminating plastics production altogether or minimize it as much as possible. Hope to fully eliminate plastics from use seems to be utopic, but implementing fully biodegradable alternatives instead always seemed like a good and easy enough solution to me. Therefore I wonder why this hasn't been done already. First biodegradable alternatives appeared decades ago, by now fully biodegradable plastics could be dominating the market.

To experience a living example of high-demand plastic products been fully replaced nationwide is enough to go shopping in any supermarket in countries like Italy and France where all the disposable polyethylene bags have been banned and completely replaced by biodegradable alternatives years ago. Why can't this be done with all the plastics in general? Here's some reason's that may hold this back:
  • Production costs. There is an (in)famous and probably truthful comparison that the production costs of disposable cutlery are smaller than washing costs of the same amount of reusable cutlery. To make it from biodegradable plastic may be more expensive than both of those options combined. However, the price would drop with increased popularity.
  • Certain types of fully biodegradable plastic might be too complicated to make. Those bags in France and Italy feels like they are decomposing while you are using them, but it might be complicated to achieve full biodegradability with thicker types of plastic used for bottles and other items.
  • Lack of public awareness and support for this approach.
What can be other reasons preventing this from happening? Are they really such big obstacles or is it just a lack of enthusiasm, support, and efforts that are really stopping this?
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Creative contributions

Does all biodegradable plastic really degrade?

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Oct 22, 2020
According to this video the plastic that should be biodegradable might not actually degrade.

There's still work to be done in that direction. Then quality control and penalties for manufacturers that lie.
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Povilas S
Povilas Sa year ago
That's true, there are different degrees of biodegradability amongst those plastics and I think just a small percentage are actually fully compostable. The aim would be to make them all like that. Thicker types of plastic could be made from vegetable starch. I think it's just a matter of effort, funding, and development of technology. But this is absolutely worth it.
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Lack of education on the use of biodegradable plastic

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Oct 26, 2020
People have questions regarding the use of biodegradable plastic. For example,
  1. Is it safe to wrap food?
  2. Can it be heated with the food inside?
  3. Shelf life?
Not many sellers research on their own to find answers to these questions and decide to use biodegradable plastic for their product. They wait for the government to dictate the rules and restrictions regarding its use.
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Having bigger problems to worry about

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Oct 26, 2020
Although there are public awareness initiatives and people know that "plastic is bad", worrying about the environment is secondary for some of them. Those who have uncertainty regarding the next meal probably would not focus on the degradability of the wrapper of a sandwich offered to them. They will unwrap the sandwich and stuff it in their mouth to avoid sharing it with others like themselves, who are watching. They have to live in the "now". For them, global warming and pollution are problems of tomorrow, unlikely to cause their death in the near future. "Dinner" is going to be their next struggle. They become unfortunate and forced consumers of plastic. The wrapper lies on the side of the road.
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Povilas S
Povilas Sa year ago
Yes, but those people also don't make important (if any) decisions regarding this. Governments make them. Also, the choices of big businesses influencing the market are very important, so increasing public awareness and enthusiasm about this might help to change the minds of people who really have the power to change the situation. People struggling with poverty don't really care (as you noted yourself) which type of plastic they are using, so if they had an option to use a better one, which doesn't pollute nature, they would choose it. Nobody likes wrappers on the sidewalk. Another thing is that people who are in poverty produce way less waste, they tend to reuse everything more and tend to take more things directly from nature rather than from shops. People who consume the most produce the most waste. And raising awareness in groups of those types of people would be the right strategy, not amongst the poor.

You tapped into another very important and arguably even a more important global problem here. I'm not saying that plastic pollution is more important than hunger and poverty. They are simply different problems.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarnia year ago
Povilas S I completely agree that pollution and poverty are not comparable and are simply different problems. I do not intend to compare them.

As you rightly pointed out, people with power can decide whether or not to use biodegradable materials. But, will they? Power is in the economy. Producing biodegradable wrapping material increases the cost of their products. That might ultimately bring down their sales or decrease their profits. I wonder how likely are the people with the power to make such a change. I, therefore, went with the alternative. Spreading awareness amongst the users than the consumers of plastic is relatively easier. The users can decide not to use goods with non-degradable wrapping material. This will then indicate the producers (people with power) to produce biodegradable materials and may bring about the desired change. In this scenario, the poor, although aware of the ill-effects of plastic, have no choice but to consume them.

Then again, either or both of the scenarios are likely.
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Povilas S
Povilas Sa year ago
Shubhankar Kulkarni
Yes, but as I noted, they are the ones who use the least of it. Really poor people rarely buy stuff at all and they tend to reuse what they find/get for free. The consumers of average to high economic positions would be the "target audience". I think starting the reactive chain from there we would eventually get to the point where the change would be done globally. That's usually how things proceed.
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General comments

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Darko Savic
Darko Savica year ago
In my country, there are still a few supermarket chains that don't use paper bags/boxes or biodegradable plastic. I avoid shopping there. When I make a mistake and figure out there are no paper bags at the counter, I carry all my groceries out like this https://stmedia.stimg.co/ows_157801180635289.jpg (minus the reversed cap)
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Povilas S
Povilas Sa year ago
Darko Savic That is a small cost for not polluting mother nature;)
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