Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Biodegradable Band-Aid

Biodegradable is Barely a Solution

Plastic is suffocating our earth. Humans are essentially “pouring one garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute” (Pennington, 2016, para. 2). Clearly, our plastic abuse has become a global crisis, and people are starting to pay attention. There are already alternatives to traditional plastics available, and biodegradable plastics are becoming quite popular. But, ‘biodegradable’ labels prey on assumptions and tend to be quite misleading. The false promise of biodegradable plastics is not a full solution to our plastic epidemic.

When you come across a ‘biodegradable’ label in the store, you could assume that the product will disappear into the earth, at a swift yet natural pace, never to be seen again. But, in most cases, this is far from the truth. Biodegradation is a process “influenced by a number of conditions including temperature, humidity, oxygen levels, presence of bacteria and time” (Miles, 2018, para. 8). Companies take advantage of the conditions of biodegradation, and “some plastics labelled as ‘biodegradable’ require the conditions that typically occur in industrial compositing be completely broken down” (Kershaw, 2015, p. 7). This means that plastic products can be labelled as ‘biodegradable’ even if they are unable to break down in natural environments. Furthermore, it is safe to assume that most of these plastics do not make it to compost centers, and when biodegradable plastics end up as litter, they can have the same devastating effects as regular plastics (Miles). The biodegradable product label misleads consumers to overestimate the environmental effects of biodegradable plastics.

Misconceptions about biodegradable plastics are contributing to the plastic pollution of our oceans and the harmful effects on marine life. UNEP predicts that if biodegradable plastics were to be universally adopted, it would lead to an increase in litter because of the ideas associated with biodegradable plastics (Kershaw). In our oceans, “the conditions required for rapid biodegradation are unlikely to occur” (p. 25), and, as stated before, biodegradable plastics can be just as harmful as regular plastics when engaged with natural environments both terrestrial and marine. Luckily, to most people nowadays, the notion that plastic is swallowing our oceans is not a new one, as many viral videos and articles have shown the devastating effects it has on our environment and marine life; and more specifically, sea turtles. Sea turtles are an endangered species known to mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and ingest them which ultimately leads to death. Plastic has been found in the stomachs of many different species of marine life, and “does appear to have been a significant factor in many cases” (p. 26) of death. Biodegradable plastics do not provide a solution to the harmful effects plastics have on marine life, and, as Lindsay Miles puts it, “whether it’s certified biodegradable or not...biodegradable does not mean digestible” (para. 48).

There is still no denying the promise of biodegradable plastics. But, even if all plastics were truly biodegradable, they would still only be a band-aid solution. Single-use plastics and plastic waste are only one manifestation of a larger issue: modern society values convenience and capital rather than the health of our people and our planet. This has created the consumerist culture we live with today, and it is wasteful. We are abusing our planet’s limited resources, in part, by wasting them; there’s plastic waste, food waste, water waste, and plenty more.  While biodegradable plastics “are better than non-biodegradable ones...they are not the perfect solution” (Miles, para. 50) to the plastic problem let alone the issue of misplaced values in consumer society.

Few people are aware of the true meaning behind the ‘biodegradable’ label and the effects biodegradable plastics have on the environment. Biodegradable plastics do not biodegrade properly in natural environments or provide a solution to the harmful effects of plastics on marine life. The ‘biodegradable’ label misleads consumers, and corporations exploit this common misconception. UNEP goes as far as to say that biodegradable plastics “will continue to cause littering problems and lead to undesirable impacts” (Kershaw, pg. 31). Biodegradable plastics are not the answer to our plastic dilemma. The plague of plastic needs to be addressed, but we need to look beyond the biodegradable band-aid.


Kershaw, P. J. (2015). Biodegradable plastics & marine litter: Misconceptions, concerns and

impacts on marine environments. Nairobi, Kenya: UNEP GPA. doi:,_concerns_and_impacts_on_marine_environments-2015BiodegradablePlasticsAndMarineLitter.pdf.pdf?amp;isAllowed=&sequence=3

Miles, L. (2018, March 28). Biodegradable Plastic: Is It REALLY Eco-Friendly? [Web log post].
Retrieved October 4, 2018, from
Pennington, J. (2016, October 27). Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our
oceans. This has to stop. Retrieved October 4, 2018, from

I wanted to share this piece I wrote last semester for my Global Studies: Environment & Ecology class with LIU Global. We were given the task to write an argumentative paper on an environmental topic. Plastic waste and sustainability is an issue I am very passionate about, and I was recently enlightened about the specific topic of biodegradable plastics by my boyfriend, David Edwards, earlier that summer. It is a piece that I am proud of, and I hope that at least one person is able to learn as much as I did when I was in the process of writing this piece. 

BE conscious
Individual actions matter.

“There is no such thing as ‘away’. When we throw anything away it must go somewhere.”
- Annie Leonard

Keep thinking AND learning!

The Biodegradable Band-Aid

Biodegradable is Barely a Solution Plastic is suffocating our earth. Humans are essentially “pouring one garbage truck of plas...