As Italy welcomes in 2018, it prepares to see a ban on plastic bags for loose fruit and vegetables (abundant in shops and supermarkets as less of them come pre packaged) - sounds great, in theory, however bags will not entirely disappear but will be replaced by bioplastic bags.
Firstly some explanation: What is bioplastic?
Bioplastics are plastics derived from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable fats and oils, corn starch, or microbiota. Bioplastics are usually derived from sugar derivatives, including starch, cellulose, lactic acid... Be careful though, as not all 'biodegradable plastic' is actually bioplastic. Some biodegradable plastics are contain additives that cause them to decay more rapidly in the presence of light and oxygen (moisture and heat help too). Unlike bioplastics, biodegradable plastics are made of normal (petrochemical) plastics and don't always break down into harmless substances. So make sure to understand what type are you using before composting etc..
And guess who is one of the biggest producers of bioplastic bags?
If you thought Italy well you thought right! Novamont is one of the biggest bioplastic bags producers and they are an Italian company.. now you may see that the Italian ban may not simply have come out of environmental concerns but out of more intricate hidden interests. Italy already banned plastic shopping bags in favour of biodegradable bags back in 2011, perhaps out of the same hidden interests?
But, you say, motive doesn't matter if it reduces plastic pollution and the plastic ocean problem... and I would agree, if it actually solved it.
But is bioplastic as environmentally friendly as it claims to be?
Now, the problem is that this so called biodegrable plastic might not necessarily biodegrade fast enough in water and may be a threat particularly for seabed habitats such as important sea grass meadows which are not only biodiversity hotspots but also important carbon sinks to help us deal with climate change....More detailed info on bioplastics can be found here
In conclusion, I believe that a deeper understanding of degradation and chemical decomposition is needed to fully understand the effects of bioplastic, and choosing the right materials with the minimal impacts on the long term.
So while a step away from plastic is welcome, we should be careful about its replacement - perhaps is time to think of reusables rather than simply replacing. Let's replace our single uses approaches instead...
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