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Bioplastics: The Answer or a New Problem?

The battle against plastic pollution is one of endless compromise. One such compromise is bioplastic, which serves the same purpose as plastic but is purportedly healthier for the environment. Made from at least 20 percent renewable sources (as opposed to regular plastic and its petroleum base), bioplastics reduce fossil fuel use and emissions, and degrade more quickly than traditional plastic.

But a recent study throws doubt on these claims of bioplastics and their environmental benefits. Conducted at the Tel Aviv University in Israel, the study investigated the effects of bioplastics on aquatic invertebrates and their ability to digest different materials. The discouraging results were that, while bioplastics are generally more environmentally healthy than petroleum-based plastics, they are no less harmful, in the short term, to marine ecosystems. Bioplastics are made to degrade quickly under certain conditions, but those conditions are not aquatic. They also contain many of the same toxins as regular plastic, which can permeate marine habitats and harm aquatic flora and fauna.

So bioplastics are not the environmental panacea they were professed to be. Why is that a problem? For starters, they are more expensive. Consumers pay extra believing that their financial sacrifices are saving the planet. Bioplastics are often “certified” as environmentally beneficial, but without a comprehensive explanation or understanding of their environmental effects. The lack of information can lead to a disparity between consumer expectations and results, meaning consumers might be helping their conscience more than they are the environment.

Therefore, on short time scales at least, bioplastics are no less damaging to marine ecosystems than regular plastics. The bioplastic movement, supposed to be a true pollution revolution, appears to be little more than a blanket for eco-minded egos. We as individuals must remain mindful of our own impacts on the environment, weigh the costs and benefits of our actions, and advocate for meaningful change.


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