Biodegradable plastic: good, bad or ugly?

If you have ever been on a diet you'll know how confusing it can be. You think something is healthy, only to find out later that the benefits aren't quite as hoped. Humus, nuts and smoothies – for example – can be laden with calories. The same goes for many sports drinks. So while you think you are doing the right thing, you can be investing in a false economy.

The same goes for bio-materials labelled as being green and good for the planet. Expert opinion can clash with legislative targets and even the definitions of the prefix 'bio-' and business buzzword 'sustainability' are rarely agreed upon.

My video pick this month is about a fascinating development by UK company, Symphony Environmental. It has produced an additive that can be added to plastic materials to make them biodegrade. The overwhelming problem of plastic based litter needs no introduction and continues to plight the environment on land and in the oceans. So this is very welcome news indeed.

Or is it? Critics have already come out of the woodwork saying this is a mechanism that will extenuate the throw away culture that caused this mess in the first place. Making plastic biodegradable will just encourage people to dump it, granting carte blanche to individuals and governments to throw away plastic components like a banana peel in a bush. This, they say, is a waste of a finite resource that should be reused and recycled and not forgotten about and left to rot.

It is an impossible situation that means uptake of any so-called 'green' materials is likely to be slow. And, in light of no hard evidence, common sense must surely prevail. Like dieting, the answer is profoundly simple and elegant; eat less and exercise more. So, perhaps material selection should follow equally simple rules about using less material in products and packaging whilst minimising the embedded carbon footprint over the whole lifecycle of products; from manufacture to disposal. However, with all these things, the devil is in the detail.

Tweet me your thoughts or leave a comment below.


Justin Cunningham

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