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Biodegradable Plastics Are The Answer To Marine Litter

Biodegradable plastics are the answer to marine litter

“Biodegradable plastics” that can break down naturally and disappear from the environment without causing harm may sound like the perfect answer to marine litter, but the reality is not so simple.

A UN Environment report on biodegradable plastics concluded that “the adoption of plastic products labelled as ‘biodegradable’ will not bring about a significant decrease either in the quantity of plastic entering the ocean or the risk of physical and chemical impacts on the marine environment, on the balance of current scientific evidence.”[1]Amongst other factors, the report noted that the “complete biodegradation of plastics occurs in conditions that are rarely, if ever, met in marine environments.”[2]And unfortunately, biodegradable plastics may even contribute to the problem. Although limited, some evidence “suggests that public perceptions about whether an item is biodegradable can influence littering behaviour; i.e. if a bag is marked as biodegradable it is more likely to be discarded inappropriately.”[3]That would certainly defeat the purpose of having biodegradable plastics.

Another reason for not putting all of our eggs in the biodegradable basket is because the issue is really how we use plastic products. The main problem is our love and consumption of single-use and disposable plastics.

Biodegradable plastics and other quick technological fixes may be a distraction from changing our behaviour and other practical and realistic actions. And changing our behaviour and habits is what we really need to do.

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