We have witnessed a significant increase in the use of plastics in our daily lives. However, this has led us to face two major challenges: environmental pollution and resource depletion. To tackle these issues, we have developed two crucial concepts: biodegradable plastics and recycled plastics. While they share the common goal of reducing the consumption of new plastics, they have distinct characteristics and processes. Let's explore the differences between biodegradable plastics and recycled plastics to gain a better understanding of how to safeguard our planet's environment and resources.
1. Biodegradable plastics
Biodegradable plastics are a type of plastic produced from conventional petroleum compounds, with the assistance of biodegradable additives. Under appropriate conditions, these additives are tasked with attracting bacteria to facilitate the process of breaking down the plastic material more quickly and efficiently than regular plastic.
Biodegradable plastics are often considered the ideal choice for products that need to be easily disposed of, including:
- Packaging materials.
- Single-use food containers.
- Plastic products with no reusability.
It's worth noting that not all types of biodegradable plastics have the same biodegradability capabilities. Some types of biodegradable plastics do not biodegrade properly when discarded in landfills, while others biodegrade better when processed in industrial composting facilities. Another important consideration is that due to the specific chemical treatment methods that make these plastics biodegradable, most of them cannot be recycled alongside regular plastics.
If you are considering using biodegradable plastics for your project, here are some important factors to consider:
- Ensure that the types of plastics used by your supplier meet specific quality standards to ensure effective biodegradability.
- Look for biodegradable plastics that tend to perform well in anaerobic environments, including landfills.
- Stay informed about the latest trends related to environmentally friendly plastics.
2. Recycled plastic
Recycling can be seen as the process of taking certain products and breaking them down into reusable forms, primarily in the form of raw materials. Materials such as cans, plastics, and paper can be recycled.
Recycled plastics often originate from plastics that have been processed from pure plastics after the industrial or consumer stage. Choosing to use recycled plastic is often considered the perfect choice for casting projects or products that do not require disposal. Some important products that can be made from recycled materials include:
- Long-lasting products such as structurally engineered toys, furniture, and even sports equipment.
- Special components for industries such as automotive parts, medical equipment, and equipment shells or packaging.
- Plastic cups, utensils, flatware, and other items with durability suitable for recycling.
- Products that consumers use for recycling, including fruit juice and water bottles, food storage containers, and various other packaging types.
The plastic recycling process typically involves sorting plastics by polymer type, shredding, thorough cleaning, melting, forming into pellets, and then creating new products from that polymer type. Often, the plastic recycling process is divided into two main stages:
- Sorting is mostly done automatically, with manual sorting intervention to ensure that all pollutants are properly removed.
- Once sorted and cleaned properly, plastic can be further shredded into smaller pieces. Additionally, plastic can be melted and then processed to form smaller pellets before being molded into new products.
3. Biodegradable plastics and recycled plastics - Which is the better environmental choice?
In recent years, the consumption of plastic and products derived from it has significantly increased worldwide. According to a report, global plastic production is expected to reach 600 million tons by 2030 if production continues at the current rate. It's important to note that most of these plastics are not biodegradable. Approximately 30% to 50% of the world's plastic production is made for single-use purposes.
All of these factors lead to a serious environmental issue, as the eventual accumulation of plastic waste becomes a concern for the future. Recycling strategies have been improved, and new biodegradable plastics are emerging as a promising method to reduce overall plastic waste.
To truly understand the importance of both concepts, let us help you explore the differences between recyclable plastics and biodegradable plastics.
Biodegradable plastics and recycled plastics - Which is the better environmental choice?
4. IDTechEx's new research on biodegradable and recycled plastics
4.1. IDTechEx's "Bioplastics 2020-2025" Report
IDTechEx's "Bioplastics 2020-2025" report forecasts that the global bioplastics market will reach a value of $13.2 billion by 2025, representing a 12% increase from the $11.7 billion in 2020. This growth is primarily driven by the growing demand for sustainable solutions to environmental issues like plastic pollution.
The report indicates that the largest application sectors for bioplastics are packaging, agriculture, and construction. Packaging accounts for approximately 40% of the market, while agriculture and construction make up around 25% and 20% of the respective market shares. Other application sectors include healthcare, automotive, and electronics.
The report also identifies key trends fueling the growth of the bioplastics market, including:
- Increased awareness of the environmental impact of traditional plastics.
- Tightening regulations regarding plastics.
- Advancements in new bioplastic manufacturing technologies.
- The rise of government incentives for bioplastic products.
Leading companies in the bioplastics market include NatureWorks, Braskem, DuPont, Metabolix, BASF, Arkema, PolyOne, Novamont, and Mitsubishi Chemical. These companies are investing in developing new bioplastic manufacturing technologies and expanding production scales to meet the growing market demand.
IDTechEx's "Bioplastics 2020-2025" report
4.2. IDTechEx's "Green technology and polymer recycling: Market analysis 2020-2030" report
IDTechEx's "Green Technology and Polymer Recycling: Market Analysis 2020-2030" report predicts that the polymer recycling market will reach $175 billion by 2030, up from $35 billion in 2020. Market growth is driven by several factors, including:
- Increased awareness of plastic pollution.
- Stringent regulations on recycling.
- Developments in new recycling technologies.
The report analyzes the polymer recycling market by plastic types, recycling technologies, and applications. Plastic types under analysis include polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE), polystyrene (PS), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and other plastics. Recycling technologies examined encompass thermal recycling, chemical recycling, and mechanical recycling. Applications analyzed include packaging, automotive, construction, and other sectors.
According to the report, leading companies in the polymer recycling sector are heavily investing in new technologies to enhance efficiency and reduce costs. Emerging recycling technologies include advanced thermal recycling, chemical recycling, and mechanical recycling.
The polymer recycling market is a rapidly growing and highly promising market. Companies in this field have significant opportunities for growth.
IDTechEx's "Green technology and polymer recycling: Market analysis 2020-2030" report
5. Benefits of using biodegradable and recycled plastics
Conservation of resources: Preserving valuable non-renewable resources is a crucial part of overall sustainability efforts. As the recycling of plastic materials increases, the amount of HDPE, PET, and PP plastics recovered also rises. This leads to savings in fossil fuels. An estimate suggests that recycling 1 ton of plastic can save up to 16.3 barrels of oil.
Freeing up landfill space: Ensuring that plastics are recyclable and biodegradable and not disposed of in incinerators or landfills can bring significant environmental benefits. Landfills often occupy a large amount of space and can leach harmful chemicals into the soil, while also emitting large quantities of greenhouse gases.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the environment is a crucial part of the battle against climate change. Estimates show that each ton of recycled plastic can save approximately one ton of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere.