Plastics, which are woven into the fabric of modern life, have consequential impacts on the environment. Many of these are associated with end-of-lifetime processes, and include chemical contamination of the environment and effects from litter. Plastics also complicate waste management processes, causing contamination in composting operations, and having poor recovery rates through recycling. Plastics that are not as biologically recalcitrant, that decompose when use is done, have been perceived as solutions to at least some of these problems. The first generation of degradable plastics did not meet marketing claims; some of the more recent formulations, partly as a consequence of third party certifications, are more compliant. However, many plastics that are labeled as “degradable” do not decompose very readily, and it is not clear that litter will be diminished to any great degree through their use. In addition, because not all plastics are or will be degradable, user confusion is and will be common. Multiple formulations mean not all degradable plastics address compost contamination, and most degradable plastics do not address other problems associated with plastics waste management. Therefore it is not clear that degradable plastics constitute a major technological advance; in fact, overall they may be more harmful than helpful.
Tonjes, David J. and Thyberg, Krista L., "Degradable Plastics and Solid Waste Management Systems" (2013). Technology & Society Faculty Publications. 10.
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