Even the most vehement environmental conservationists shrug their shoulders and try evading the question when interrogated about their own unavoidable use of plastic in a million different ways everyday. Alternatively, they may scream themselves hoarse pointing out to the need to recycle plastics but they never quite deny how the revolutionary invention has changed our way of living in an irretrievable, irreversible way. Brace yourself for an invention that is likely to transform society, if you will believe it, in an even more radical way.
The idea of biodegradable plastics was conceived about twenty years ago. Initially they were solely plant based. However, the lack of environmental awareness and the prohibitive cost of such products prevented them from making any real impact.
The fundamental requirement for any biodegradable product is that it should decompose into a simpler form within such a period of time that prevents the rate of its production from causing any serious harm to the environment. Needless to say, such a ‘simpler’ form should be less harmful than the original, a complex product. Most biodegradable plastics are not entirely biodegradable but break down by about ninety percent, thus dramatically bringing down the ‘toxic threat’ they pose to the environment.
However it must be noted that certain hurdles still need to be crossed. For instance, degradable plastic can be broken down only under certain environmental conditions that have so far, only been contrived. The residue that is left behind is not food for any known microorganism and cannot, therefore, be degraded further. Thus the quantity and volume of pollution decreases many times over but what is left behind is neither useful nor recyclable. So what is happening is that a plastic product that could otherwise have been put to some use is being destroyed to give rise to an entirely useless bundle of toxicity.
Another charge that has been leveled against bioplastics is that the production processes involved release so much heat content into the atmosphere that whatever environmental risks they might otherwise do away with are negated by the additional harm that the production inflicts upon the environment, exacerbating global warming like never before.
However, an interesting new study aims at proving that bioplastics can be used as a mulch film by farmers that will actually facilitate more productive cultivation of plants rather than resulting in any sort of detriment to them. Bioplastics, in the traditional role of mulch can be used in dry regions or in times of low rainfall for moisture retention. Even otherwise, a layer of mulch does wonders to curb weed growth. So far farmers have used black plastic as mulch which has to be removed after harvest. Very often, along with the black plastic, the rich layer of humus is removed as well. A bioplastic film can just be ploughed into the soil. This might not only prove to save manpower and costs but might also be an effective way of enhancing the carbon content of the soil.
Another innovative invention is the plant pot made from bioplastics. Instead of going through the rigmarole of having to transfer plants to the ground after they have grown considerably in pots, gardeners can now simply use pots made of biodegradable plastic and then forget about it. The pot will inevitably, conveniently decompose on its own.
Bioplastics are a revolution waiting to happen. Production has not been cleared because the environmental and health risks associated with the same have not been worked out yet. But if enough research and money is invested in the research pertaining to their production, we might just bid adieu to the necessary evil of plastics.