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What is the difference between oxo-biodegradable and oxo-degradable?

2023-10-12

Oxo-biodegradable and oxo-degradable are terms used to describe different types of plastic materials that are engineered to degrade over time. While both terms involve the process of degradation, there are some significant differences between the two. In this article, we will explore the distinctions between oxo-biodegradable and oxo-degradable plastics.

To begin with, let's look at oxo-degradable plastics. These materials are conventional plastics that have been treated with additives known as pro-degradants. These additives are usually metal-based compounds such as cobalt, iron, or manganese. When exposed to oxygen and ultraviolet (UV) light, the pro-degradant additives initiate a process called oxidation, which causes the plastic to fragment into smaller pieces. This helps to accelerate the degradation of the plastic into microplastics.

However, despite their ability to fragment, oxo-degradable plastics do not fully biodegrade. The process of biodegradation involves the breaking down of organic materials by microorganisms, which ultimately results in the conversion of the material into water, carbon dioxide, and biomass. Since oxo-degradable plastics are primarily made from fossil fuel-based polymers, the degradation process does not lead to complete biodegradation. Instead, it results in the accumulation of microplastics in the environment, posing a threat to ecosystems and wildlife.

On the other hand, oxo-biodegradable plastics are designed to degrade and biodegrade over time. Similar to oxo-degradable plastics, they contain pro-degradant additives that facilitate the initial fragmentation of the material. However, the key difference lies in the subsequent biodegradation process. Oxo-biodegradable plastics incorporate an additional ingredient known as a biodegradable agent, which enables the material to be further digested and broken down by microorganisms once it fragments.

During the biodegradation process, microorganisms consume the oxo-biodegradable plastic fragments and break them down into simpler organic compounds. These compounds are then utilized as a food source, releasing water, carbon dioxide, and biomass as metabolic byproducts. This process is similar to the natural degradation of organic materials, facilitating the integration of the oxo-biodegradable plastics into the ecosystem without leaving behind harmful microplastics.

It is essential to note that the rate of degradation and biodegradation for both oxo-degradable and oxo-biodegradable plastics can vary significantly depending on environmental conditions. Factors such as temperature, humidity, exposure to UV light, and the presence of microorganisms can influence the degradation process. Nevertheless, oxo-biodegradable plastics offer a more viable solution due to their ability to complete the biodegradation process, minimizing the environmental impact.

While oxo-biodegradable plastics seem like a superior alternative, there have been debates surrounding their true environmental benefits. Some argue that oxo-biodegradable plastics may still leave behind harmful residues during the degradation process, while others believe that the microorganisms responsible for biodegradation may not be present in all environments. Additionally, improper disposal and lack of recycling infrastructure can hinder the proper breakdown of oxo-biodegradable plastics, rendering their environmental advantages ineffective.

In conclusion, oxo-biodegradable and oxo-degradable plastics differ in their ability to fully degrade and biodegrade. Oxo-degradable plastics only fragment into smaller pieces, leading to the accumulation of harmful microplastics. On the contrary, oxo-biodegradable plastics undergo a complete biodegradation process, facilitated by additional biodegradable agents. However, the effectiveness of these plastics in minimizing environmental pollution is still a subject of debate. Ultimately, reducing plastic consumption and promoting sustainable alternatives remain crucial in tackling the global plastic waste crisis.