Disposable foam containers and plastic utensils offer convenience for meals on the go, but few consumers truly understand the impact these products have on the planet. Traditional foam and plastic packaging comes from petroleum, or oil. This means that not only will they last a very long time, but they also contain some potentially toxic substances. For an eco-friendly alternative, consider biodegradable products, which decompose naturally thanks to natural ingredients like sugar, corn or potatoes.
Imagine what it’s like to live next to a landfill — the scent of rotting garbage and noisy trucks, plus plenty of birds, rats and other scavengers. Though no one really wants to live near a landfill, you may have no choice in the future. Plastic products can break down, but the process can take hundreds of years. That means society must find somewhere to keep stashing all of these packages and containers made from foam or other oil-based products. Even today, plastic represents about one-quarter of all waste in landfills by volume, reports “Smithsonian Magazine.” Biodegradable products offer an effective solution to creating bigger and bigger landfills. Rather than sitting around in a landfill for centuries, biodegradable products decompose into small particles that can naturally be absorbed into the soil.
Oil and other fossil fuels are limited resources. That means when they run out, people can’t make anymore. In spite of the limited supply of fossil fuels on Earth, as much as 4 percent of the world’s oil supply is used as a raw material for producing plastics. Switching to biodegradable products allows manufacturers to swap scarce oil for renewable and readily available products like corn or sugar cane. Even better, producing these biodegradable products saves even more oil. “Smithsonian Magazine” estimates that it takes only about one-third as much energy to produce packaging from corn than it does to produce similar products out of plastic.
Plastic containers and other products made from oil contain some potentially toxic chemicals that can pollute the air and water. Bisphenol A, phthalates and other chemicals used to make plastic can leach out of the products after disposal. These chemicals then seep into the soil, where they can eventually reach the water supply. Plastics that never make it to the landfill often end up directly in the ocean, where they begin to leach into the water within one year, according to “National Geographic.” These chemicals can significantly affect wildlife and local ecosystems, resulting in sick animals and marine life. Biodegradable products eliminate or greatly reduce this problem because they don’t contain many of the toxic chemicals found in traditional packaging. Switching to biodegradable products may result in healthier water, cleaner air and fewer disruptions to the ecosystem.
The phthalates, bisphenol A and other chemicals found in plastics can also pose direct risks to human health. “National Geographic” reports that these substances can potentially contribute to cancer, and may also cause reproductive abnormalities. While greater research is needed, some scientists fear that these chemicals can build up in your body, leading to the potential for various health problems. Because they are made from natural alternatives to oil, biodegradable products are generally less toxic than oil-based ones, according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Instead, biodegradable product makers rely on corn starch, sugar cane, potatoes and other ingredients to make packaging that’s less likely to cause allergies or contribute to human health problems than other types of products.