"The Complexities of PLA: Exploring the Challenges of Biodegradable Plastics and Climate Change"

Alfred Tang

Hatched by Alfred Tang

Dec 01, 2023

3 min read

0

"The Complexities of PLA: Exploring the Challenges of Biodegradable Plastics and Climate Change"

Introduction:

Our planet is facing a pressing issue - climate change. As temperatures rise and environmental concerns grow, the need for sustainable solutions becomes increasingly urgent. One area of focus is the use of plastics, specifically biodegradable plastics like PLA (polylactide). However, despite being touted as an eco-friendly alternative, PLA faces significant challenges in terms of recycling and waste management. In this article, we will delve into the complexities surrounding PLA, its limitations, and the need for comprehensive solutions.

The Dilemma of PLA:

PLA, a type of biodegradable plastic, has been categorized as a separate seventh class of plastic, adding to the confusion of plastic waste disposal. Without a complete understanding of recycling processes and a lack of well-established composting facilities, PLA often ends up in landfills, just like traditional plastics. Even when PLA is correctly recycled, there is currently no system in place to reuse or repurpose it effectively. This inability to close the loop of monetary and material flows hampers the full potential of PLA as a sustainable plastic alternative.

The Complexity of Biodegradable Plastics:

PLA, along with other biodegradable plastics like PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and PP (polypropylene), falls under the category of biobased materials derived from sources such as corn and potatoes. However, the process of biodegradation is not as simple as it seems. European standard EN 13432, for example, requires that plastic materials undergo controlled composting conditions for three months, during which 90% of the material should break down into fragments smaller than 2mm. Additionally, 90% of the organic matter in the plastic should convert into carbon dioxide within six months. Finally, the resulting compost needs to undergo biotoxicity testing to ensure it supports healthy plant growth.

The Challenges of Composting PLA:

Composting PLA requires precise temperature control, with the compost maintained at a stable 60℃. Regular watering and automated aeration are also necessary to support the survival conditions of microorganisms in the compost. However, in Taiwan, the recycling rate for PLA is only around 5-6%, indicating a lack of proper composting infrastructure and awareness among the public.

Connecting the Dots: Climate Change and PLA Disposal:

To address the challenges posed by PLA and other plastics, it is crucial to understand their connection to climate change. The production and disposal of plastics contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation. By promoting the use of biodegradable plastics like PLA, we aim to reduce these harmful impacts. However, without comprehensive legislation and effective waste management systems, the potential benefits of PLA remain limited.

Actionable Advice for a Sustainable Future:

  • 1. Raise Public Awareness: Educate the public about the importance of proper waste management, including the separation and recycling of PLA and other plastics. Encourage individuals to make informed choices and support initiatives that promote sustainability.
  • 2. Improve Recycling Infrastructure: Governments and businesses should invest in the development of recycling facilities and technologies specifically designed for PLA. This would ensure a more efficient and effective recycling process, enabling the reuse and repurposing of PLA.
  • 3. Collaborate with Composting Facilities: Establish partnerships between PLA manufacturers and composting facilities to ensure a streamlined waste management process. This would facilitate the conversion of PLA into compost and create a closed-loop system for sustainable plastic production and disposal.

Conclusion:

PLA and other biodegradable plastics hold great potential in combating climate change and reducing the environmental impact of traditional plastics. However, their effective implementation requires a holistic approach involving public awareness, improved recycling infrastructure, and collaboration with composting facilities. By addressing these challenges, we can harness the power of PLA and pave the way for a more sustainable future.

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