Biodegradable Plastic Cups

Photo degradation. It is the natural process by which the polymer molecules in plastic are oxidized (the UV light from the sun and oxygen combine) which breaks plastic into small pieces. These tiny pieces are then metabolized by microorganisms (like fungi and bacteria) and converted into carbon dioxide or back into their own biomolecules. This process can take 50 years or more on land and even longer underwater where many of our world’s plastics reside.

Scientists have created biodegradable plastic which follows the process of photo degradation but at a faster pace. The ultimate goal is to decompose of the cup more quickly. However, it still takes a significant time for the breakdown process to occur and can take even longer if the specific conditions of photo degradation are not present. For example, if a cup is not exposed to the sun’s rays because it is sitting at the bottom of a pile of waste or if it is underwater. During the time that they’re not degraded, plastic cups fill valuable space in landfills and have the potential to harm marine life and other organisms who often ingest plastic that is not completely broken down. In addition, many biodegradable plastic cups contain added chemicals to make the plastic less durable so it breaks down faster; these chemicals are leaching into water streams and into consumer’s bodies.

This is a valuable method to reduce the impact of single-use items but it is not sustainable. That is why the best method is to bring your own, reusable cup.