What are the different types of degradable plastic?



Title: Understanding the Different Types of Degradable Plastic

Introduction: As the world continues to combat plastic pollution and dependency on non-biodegradable materials, the development of degradable plastics is gaining more attention. Degradable plastics are designed to break down over time, reducing their negative impact on the environment. In this article, we will explore the various types of degradable plastics and discuss their benefits and limitations.

1. Biodegradable Plastics: Biodegradable plastics are made from organic materials such as plant starches, corn, or sugarcane. These materials are broken down by microorganisms present in the environment into simpler substances, like carbon dioxide, water, and biomass. Biodegradable plastics reduce waste accumulation and can be composted in industrial composting facilities. However, they require specific conditions for proper degradation, making them unsuitable for home composting or traditional recycling streams.

2. Oxo-Degradable Plastics: Oxo-degradable plastics are conventional plastics that are supplemented with additives, such as metal salts. These additives accelerate the degradation process by breaking down the plastic into small fragments through oxidation. While this may seem beneficial, the resulting tiny fragments, known as microplastics, can persist in the environment for extended periods, causing ecological harm. Moreover, their degradation process is reliant on exposure to specific environmental conditions, such as moisture and heat, limiting their effectiveness in certain settings.

3. Photodegradable Plastics: Photodegradable plastics disintegrate when exposed to sunlight. They contain additives that weaken the bonds within the plastic structure, facilitating their breakdown over time. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun accelerates this process. However, once again, photodegradable plastics result in the generation of microplastics during degradation, which can have detrimental effects on ecosystems. Additionally, these plastics require exposure to sunlight, making their degradation slower in landfills or buried environments.

4. Hydro-degradable Plastics: Hydro-degradable plastics are designed to disintegrate when in contact with water. They are typically made from traditional plastics, such as polyethylene, combined with hydrophilic compounds that absorb moisture. Once exposed to water, the hydrophilic compounds enhance the penetration of water into the plastic, breaking it down into smaller pieces. While this type of degradable plastic is effective in wet environments, it may remain intact for long periods in dry conditions, hindering its overall degradability.

5. Bio-based Plastics: Bio-based plastics are derived from renewable resources, such as corn, sugarcane, or algae. These plastics can be either biodegradable or non-biodegradable, depending on their composition. Biodegradable bio-based plastics can decompose naturally, while non-biodegradable bio-based plastics, like polyethylene made from plant sugars, still retain their durability but have a smaller carbon footprint compared to petroleum-derived plastics. Bio-based plastics offer the advantage of reducing dependency on fossil fuels, contributing to lower greenhouse gas emissions and promoting a circular economy.

Conclusion: Degradable plastics, while offering a potential solution to the world's plastic pollution crisis, come in various forms, each with its own advantages and limitations. Biodegradable plastics reduce waste accumulation, while bio-based plastics lessen our reliance on non-renewable resources. However, it is crucial to understand that all degradable plastics can potentially contribute to microplastic pollution and require specific conditions for proper degradation. Hence, a comprehensive approach tackling plastic pollution should encompass reduction, recycling, and an emphasis on sustainable alternatives like biodegradable and bio-based plastics, while continually striving for better solutions. By embracing these initiatives and fostering a broader systemic change, we can foster a cleaner and more sustainable future for generations to come.

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