What Does Biodegradable Plastic Really Cost Us?

Photo Courtesy: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket/Getty Images

In the 1950s, most people considered plastic a miracle material. But, nowadays, there's far more awareness about the toxic nature of plastic manufacturing, recycling and use. Namely, plastic doesn’t degrade readily, which means a single plastic toothbrush could take about 500 years to decompose after winding up in a landfill.

To make matters worse, some types of plastic may never fully degrade. Instead, they become small, bead-like microplastic pieces — beads that tend to leak chemicals or get consumed by unassuming animals. With this in mind, many plastics companies have sought to replace their long-lasting plastic pellets with more environmentally-conscious alternatives, especially given the more high-profile backlash against plastics that contain bisphenol A (BPA).

And that’s where biodegradable plastics, or bioplastics, come in. Defined as "a substance that can be broken down naturally by living organisms — like mold, bacteria or fungi — and will therefore not remain in the natural environment for a long time," these plastic alternatives are designed to decompose over the course of a few weeks or months (via SFGate). Often, they're made from ingredients like seaweed, rice, corn and stressed-out microorganisms, all of which don't leave microplastics behind in their wake. But is the manufacturing process as eco-friendly as it's purported to be? And are there other alternatives to plastic that we need to be seeking out and investing in instead?