Plastic is a nonbiodegradable material! What it means? It simply means it does not decompose or breakdown by the action of microorganisms. Sounds legit! But, is it just the plastic that goes into the blue (recycle) bin?
Apart from plastic, there are other materials as well such as metals (iron, aluminum, etc.) and glass, that belongs to the category of nonbiodegradable materials.
“If there are other materials as well, why we are so concerned about plastic waste only?“
Let’s do a fact-check! The image below covers few examples of different types of wastes, along with the time they take to decompose.
There is a widespread misconception about plastics. We all assume that it is the time it takes to decompose that makes plastics worse. But if you see the image, the batteries take around 100 years to decompose. That’s far less than most of the plastic materials. Find out how much time a plastic bag takes to decompose. It’s around 20 years! That’s 5 times less than the batteries .
If this isn’t enough, there is one more example of a nonbiodegradable waste, not covered in the image, and that is glass. Glass takes around 1 million years to decompose, and that’s terribly greater than any other material on Earth!
Image by Colleen Tighe © The Balance 2019
The two main consequences of Plastic Pollution!
If you compare how long does the plastic take to decompose with the glass, you would come up with an opinion that plastic proves to be a better alternative to glass. However, it’s important to learn that plastic releases toxic chemicals into the environment as they break down, which is not the case with glass. This process of releasing harmful chemicals into its surrounding is known as Leaching. Leaching is a major, and the most serious problem with plastics.
“Your Plastic bottle tends to leak Chemicals into the Liquid it contains!“
Often the plastic used to store food or beverages releases chemicals into the foods they contain. For example, the Polycarbonate releases Bisphenol A (BPA).
BPA is the most commonly found toxins released from the plastic bottles. It is the reason why most of the plastic bottles nowadays have stickers over them indicating the bottle is free from BPA.
Image by David McNew on Getty Images on time.com
“The Microplastic problem!“
In addition to leaching, one important problem with plastics that is gaining widespread attention is the release of tiny fragments of plastic, known as microplastics, caused to be broken down from the larger plastic materials. These microplastics fall in the size range between a few nanometers to 5 mm.
Even after breaking down to the microscopic level, these microplastics are not biodegradable, and are known to pollute water bodies and contaminate the soil. Even the air we breathe is contaminated with microplastics.
Recycling PET bottles into Polyester clothing has turned out to be an important source of microplastics, released during washing of clothes. These microplastics eventually ends into rivers and oceans through wastewater systems, giving rise to so-called Microplastic pollution.
“Psst! Although plastic, metals and glass are considered as nonbiodegradable materials, technically they are biodegradable. It’s just they take unexpectedly long time to breakdown, that they are preferred to be called as nonbiodegradable materials.”