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What is the difference between biodegradable and oxo-biodegradable?

2023-10-12

Biodegradable and oxo-biodegradable are terms often used in the context of environmental sustainability and waste management. While these terms may sound similar, they represent two different approaches to solving the problem of plastic waste. In this article, we will explore the difference between biodegradable and oxo-biodegradable materials.

Biodegradable materials are substances that can naturally break down or decompose in the environment. This process occurs through the action of microorganisms, such as bacteria or fungi, which consume the materials and convert them into simpler compounds. These compounds can then be assimilated by other organisms in the ecosystem, completing the natural cycle of biodegradation.

On the other hand, oxo-biodegradable materials are designed to degrade through a different mechanism. These materials contain additives known as pro-degradants, which accelerate the breakdown process. When exposed to certain environmental conditions, such as heat or sunlight, the pro-degradants trigger a chain reaction leading to the fragmentation of the plastic into smaller pieces. Eventually, microorganisms can further breakdown these fragments into harmless substances.

The primary distinction between biodegradable and oxo-biodegradable materials lies in the time it takes for complete decomposition. Biodegradable materials tend to break down over a relatively longer period, ranging from several months to years, depending on various factors like temperature, humidity, and microbial activity. Oxo-biodegradable materials, on the other hand, can degrade much faster, typically within a few months. This accelerated degradation is attributed to the presence of the pro-degradants, which speed up the process.

Another significant difference between the two is the final outcome of the decomposition process. Biodegradable materials generally transform into carbon dioxide, water, and organic matter, leaving behind minimal traces of residue. These byproducts are non-toxic and can be easily assimilated in nature. In contrast, oxo-biodegradable materials result in small plastic fragments that will eventually degrade into microplastics. These microplastics may persist in the environment for a more extended period and can pose potential threats to ecosystems and wildlife.

It is important to note that the use of the term "biodegradable" can sometimes be misleading. In many cases, manufacturers label their products as "biodegradable" without specifying the exact timescale or conditions required for decomposition. This ambiguity can create confusion and contribute to greenwashing, where companies falsely claim their products are more environmentally friendly than they actually are. Thus, it is crucial for consumers to look for certification or specific information provided by reputable organizations or industry standards when assessing the biodegradability claims of a product.

In conclusion, while both biodegradable and oxo-biodegradable materials aim to address the issue of plastic waste, there are notable differences between the two. Biodegradable materials break down naturally over a longer period, resulting in non-toxic byproducts. Oxobio-degradable materials, on the other hand, decompose faster due to the presence of pro-degradants but may leave behind microplastic fragments. When considering these options, it is crucial to be mindful of the potential environmental impacts and choose the most sustainable alternative available.