Eco-friendly disposables no help with plastic marine debris issue

Recently, with the awareness around plastic marine debris, companies have taken action ranging from switching out from PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles to cartoned water, as well as replacing various kinds of packaging to non-plastic options.

The biggest issue around plastic marine debris is that plastic takes a long time to break down in the ocean and goes on to harm marine life - up to 50 years for a styrofoam cup.

However, I am not sure alternatives like beverage carton, corn- based disposables or polylactic acid (PLA) are much better.

While paper makes up 75 per cent of a beverage carton, there is up to 20 per cent PolyAl layers that will probably take very long to break down in water.

Biodegrable and oxo-biodegradable plastics, such as corn- based disposables, still contain plastics, and the increased speed of breakdown help to add to the microplastics in the environment.

Compostable options like PLA and bagasse, need to be rated "home compostable" in order to breakdown within one year at room temperature. Otherwise, if these options are rated "industrial compostable", they will need 60 deg C to fully compost within six months.

Hence, more often than not, we are just replacing single-use plastic disposables with single-use "eco-friendly" disposable alternatives, which also take too long to break down in the oceans.

I do not see how all these different "eco-friendly" options help to deal with the plastic marine debris - the only way these "eco-friendly" options are better than plastics themselves are that they are often made from materials that are renewable and maybe have a lower carbon foot print - wood for paper, sugarcane for bagasse.

It is fine if companies celebrate promoting the use of a renewable resource, but do not be mistaken - it does not help with marine debris issue much at all - which is often a big reason why companies reject plastic single-use disposables in the first place.

Tay Guan Hock