The fairy tale of the "good" plastic (told according to a true story)
Once upon a time, not so long ago, the earth was very, very dirty, which worried many people. They became thoughtful and wanted to do something to stop the beginning self-destruction; after all, one day the earth would pass on to the generation of children and grandchildren and they too would have a good life.
Characteristic for this era of pollution was garbage en masse. There was a 65 meter high dump in Ghazipur, the eastern district of New Delhi. The circumference of this mountain of garbage covered an area of 40 football fields and grew ever higher - by ten metres a year. If the garbage mountain continued to grow at this rate, by 2020 it would have caught up with India's landmark - the Taj Mahal.
It was at this time that manufacturers began to make products and packaging with the euphonious name "bioplastics". Whether this was based on an interest in the environment or a conveniently located marketing strategy was not known for sure. Nor did many people know the facts behind this biological plastic. The strange combination of "bio" and "plastic" in one word alone caused irritation. So it happened that an environmentally conscious blog took up the cause to support the educational work on the subject.
The Federal Environment Agency was also critical of bioplastics. In order to produce plastic from potatoes, sugar cane or corn, it needed petroleum. On the one hand to produce fertiliser and on the other hand it served as fuel for tractors. The use of pesticides also meant that the cultivation of the plants was not biological, which was followed by side effects such as an excessively high nitrate level in the groundwater. Last but not least, it was a rather unpleasant aftertaste that with potatoes or corn food was used to produce plastic.
There were bioplastics that consisted of agricultural or forest waste, such as orange peel or sawdust, but for the people who bought them, this difference was hardly noticeable.
The matter was complicated by the fact that the term "bioplastics" was not defined clearly enough. Either bioplastics were made from biological raw materials or they were degradable. It was always sufficient to fulfil one of these criteria to deserve the term "bioplastic". Some plastics even fulfilled both characteristics.
But the proportion of pure raw materials was not precisely defined. Additives such as binders, additives or stabilizers were commonplace in order to achieve heat-resistant or water-repellent properties. Thus, a product made of bioplastics could not be manufactured one hundred percent from raw materials at all and was just as little (or very poorly) compostable. However, a yoghurt cup did not show that it contained a lot of chemicals and that energy and water were lost during its production. Critics coined the warning term "greenwashing".
As far as bioplastics were concerned, a distinction was made between two groups. There were the biobased plastics such as polyethylene (PE) or polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The biobased plastics saved petroleum and saved CO2, and were also very stable and durable - unfortunately. Unfortunately, this made this type of bioplastic just as harmful to the environment as normal plastic. In most cases, biobased plastics required expensive and energy-intensive cultivation and were not biodegradable.
The second group was called "biodegradable plastics". With this type of plastic, the starting material did not matter. The only thing that counted was to be at least 90% biodegradable, and this was also possible with fossil resources. A DIN certification stated that the plastic had to be 90 % biodegradable within twelve weeks. However, this composting required certain conditions that compost could not achieve at home. It had different humidity and temperature conditions.
In modern composting plants this worked well; there, organic waste decomposed within four weeks. However, the bags for the organic waste were problematic because they took much longer. The Federal Environment Agency also found the bags made of bioplastics to be no alternative.
Another problem was that the bioplastics did not differ from the conventional ones. It was therefore difficult for people to know how to dispose of the products properly. And also in composting plants this hardly noticeable difference was a difficult thing. As a result, the bioplastics were not accepted and had to be sorted out and incinerated. So much of the biological plastic ended up in the Residual waste. Biologically this was not at all, but more a destruction of resources.
Whether bioplastics would degrade in sea water was not proven. This led to the assumption that it disintegrated into tiny particles and became microplastic - just like classic plastic.
The Federal Environment Agency came to the following conclusion regarding bioplastics: "The bottom line is that at present, biobased plastics are still far from being more environmentally friendly than conventional plastics. The Nabu was equally sceptical: "So far, no ecological advantage has been proven compared to the classic plastic bag.
Because so many people did not know all these things, they assumed that they could throw away bioplastics without knowing it; it would rot. This attitude was problematic because the culture of throwing away had become firmly established and contributed significantly to mass waste. Wherever there were areas of application of long duration where it made sense to use plastic, bioplastics could be used and otherwise people had to learn one thing: environmental protection means avoiding unnecessary packaging and products.
The moral of the story': Plastic remains plastic - no matter what face it has.
And if the bioplastic has not decomposed, it still exists - in tiny particles all over our earth.
Pity this is no fairy tale; at best it would be a dystopia, but it is simply reality.