A new study reported by the Jerusalem Post found plastic dishes and utensils sold as environmentally friendly do not biodegrade as rapidly in a marine environment and have a similar environmental impact on marine animals as regular disposable dishes.
The study compared the impact of regular disposable dishes and certified bioplastic dishes on the marine environment and concluded that, at least in the short term, both types of plastic dish have similar negative effects.
“In recent decades, substances called ‘bioplastics’ came on the market. Bioplastics are made of natural, renewable materials, and biodegrade relatively fast under certain conditions,” said research student Guillermo Aderson who led the study with Prof. Noa Shenkar. But these conditions are not generally met, according to the researchers. A significant proportion of plastic dishes end up in the water, where they do not break down effectively as designed.
Researchers put environmentally friendly plates underwater near Eilat and in a marine lab and found that after three months the plates had “absorbed water and swelled up, but showed no signs of breaking down.”
The study also found that the environmentally friendly plastics contain micro particles that can cause damage to marine life when ingested.
The problem may be outdated standards, Shenkar said. “These standards define bioplastics as materials that biodegrade within 180 days in composting facilities” where conditions are tightly controlled and “generally not found in nature, especially not in the marine environment,” she explains.
“While you may be calming your conscience, you’re still liable to be polluting the environment,” said Prof. Shenkar.
“Our study demonstrates the urgent need to update standards for ‘environmentally friendly’ disposable utensils, and for clearer consumer explanations. But, until that happens, this is an important consideration when spending good money on disposable dishes with bioplastics seals. While you may be calming your conscience, you’re still liable to be polluting the environment,” Shenkar concluded.