Oxo-biodegradable plastic, also known as oxo-degradable plastic, is a type of plastic that has gained popularity in recent years due to its claim of being able to degrade faster than conventional plastic. It is important to understand the degradation process and how long it takes for oxo-biodegradable plastic to decompose.
Oxo-biodegradable plastic is made by incorporating additives during the manufacturing process. These additives typically include a metal salt catalyst, such as cobalt or manganese, which initiates the degradation when exposed to heat and oxygen. This triggers the oxidation process, breaking down the plastic into smaller fragments.
The degradation process of oxo-biodegradable plastic occurs in two stages: fragmentation and biodegradation. During the first stage, fragmentation, the plastic breaks down into smaller pieces due to the oxidation process. This process is accelerated by exposure to sunlight, heat, and oxygen. These small fragments are then exposed to microorganisms and further degradation occurs in the second stage, known as biodegradation.
The time it takes for oxo-biodegradable plastic to decompose depends on various factors such as environmental conditions, exposure to sunlight, and the presence of microorganisms. It is challenging to determine an exact timeframe for decomposition as these factors can vary significantly.
Studies and research on the degradation of oxo-biodegradable plastics have provided some insights into the decomposition process. In ideal conditions, where the plastic is exposed to sunlight and heat, fragmentation can occur in as little as a few months. However, the degradation process may take much longer under normal conditions, such as in landfills or marine environments.
In a study conducted by the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom, it was found that oxo-biodegradable plastic bags underwent fragmentation in marine habitats within three months, whereas conventional plastic bags remained intact. However, the complete biodegradation of these fragmented oxo-biodegradable plastic bags took significantly longer, with some fragments still present after 27 months.
Similarly, studies in landfill environments have shown that the degradation of oxo-biodegradable plastic can take several years. Research conducted by the Quebec government in Canada found that oxo-biodegradable plastic bags only partially degraded after three years in a landfill, with some still intact. This indicates that the biodegradation process is slower in anaerobic environments such as landfills.
The variability in degradation time for oxo-biodegradable plastic is largely due to the inconsistent environmental conditions it is exposed to. Factors such as temperature, humidity, sunlight exposure, and the availability of microorganisms play a significant role in the degradation process. In controlled laboratory environments, where these conditions can be controlled, degradation can occur relatively quickly. However, real-world conditions can significantly prolong the decomposition process.
It is also worth noting that the claims made by manufacturers of oxo-biodegradable plastic have been met with skepticism and controversy. Some studies suggest that the fragments produced during the degradation process can persist in the environment for a long time, posing potential threats to wildlife and ecosystems.
In conclusion, the time it takes for oxo-biodegradable plastic to decompose varies depending on environmental conditions and exposure. While fragmentation may occur within a few months in optimal conditions, complete biodegradation can take several years, especially in anaerobic environments such as landfills. Further research is needed to fully understand the degradation process and the long-term impact of oxo-biodegradable plastics on the environment.