Biodegradable plastics: the way ahead
Have you ever tried holding your breath for longer than a few seconds or up to a minute? Now imagine a life-giving source like the Earth choking on plastics discarded by humans. Carelessly discarded plastics bags, tumblers are not an unusual sights at sea beaches and hill sides. Throwing away carelessly is a habit that’s become a part of many lives. While it’s important for everyone to wake up to being more environmentally conscious, it is equally important for authorities to take up being environmentally sensitive.
Biodegradable plastics can be plug the gaping hole. Biodegradable plastics break down when they are exposed to sunlight (eg ultra-violet radiation), water or dampness, bacteria, enzymes, or wind abrasion.
The biodegradable polymers could be an alternative to conventional plastic materials. These polymers, being biodegradable, can be disposed off in a safe and ecologically sound manner, through disposal processes (waste management) like composting, soil application, and biological wastewater treatment.
A 2009 field survey-cum-study on “Establishment & Impact of Biodegradable Plastics on Environment/Food” sponsored by Central Pollution Control Board was conducted by Central Institute of Plastics Engineering & Technology (CIPET), Chennai.
The concept of biodegradable plastics is new to India, which the study stated is primarily due to the cost factor. The cost of biodegradable plastics is 2- 10 times more than conventional plastics. As per the available data, the current price trend of oxo/photo-degradable plastics (based on polyethylene material) and biodegradable plastics for film applications (copolyester based) are:
(i) Oxo/photo degradable plastics film/bags: Rs.90-120 per kg (depending upon prices of polyethylene and additive, which are variable and as per the global trend of polymer pricing).
(ii) Biodegradable plastics film/bags: Rs.400-500 per kg.
Also, there is no legal framework to enforce legislature to acknowledge the disposal problem of conventional plastics, particularly for short lived flexible packaging products. Agro-biotech may be the new buzz word for India’s science and technology sector, but alternative biodegradable plastics have still not been identified as a major area for research. During the field survey, it was brought to the notice that for export of products to few countries, the mandatory condition of use of biodegradable plastics for packaging is enforced.