Biodegradable Plastic

Context: Eight months after the Centre banned single-use plastic and paved the way for the use of biodegradable plastic, a lack of coordination among multiple ministries of government has led to the question remaining unanswered. A consequence of this is that several manufacturers, who are now unable to manufacture single-use plastic goods and invested in making biodegradable alternatives, are unable to produce them and stare at an uncertain future. 


  • Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, has notified the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, which prohibits identified single use plastic items which have low utility and high littering potential by 2022.  
  • The manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of following single-use plastic, including polystyrene and expanded polystyrene, commodities shall be prohibited with effect from the 1st July, 2022:-
    • ear buds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, polystyrene [Thermocol] for decoration;
    • plates, cups, glasses, cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straw, trays, wrapping or packing films around sweet boxes, invitation cards,  and cigarette packets, plastic or PVC banners less than 100 micron, stirrers.
  • In order to stop littering due to light weight plastic carry bags, with effect from 30th September, 2021, the thickness of plastic carry bags has been increased from fifty microns to seventy five microns and to one hundred and twenty microns with effect from the 31st December, 2022. This will also allow reuse of plastic carry due to increase in thickness.
  • The biodegradable plastics have to conform to the standard notified by the Bureau of Indian Standards and certified by the Central Pollution Control Board

About the issue

  • The BIS has established a provisional protocol of testing biodegradable plastic that says 90% biodegradation should be achieved to pass the test which may take up to two years. A sectional committee there will establish a standard after further reviews,
  • As it will take a minimum of two years to check if the plastics can indeed degrade to at least 90%, the Environment Ministry in its notification of July 2022 banning single-use plastic allowed manufacturers to get a ‘provisional certificate’ valid till June 2023 from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) allowing them to make biodegradable plastic goods.
  • Such a certificate could be procured if a manufacturer obtained an ‘interim’ test report from the Central Institute of Petroleum Technology (CIPET), or other accredited testing labs.
  • Such interim test report to the CPCB for a licence were rejected because they insisted that they would only consider a test that showed 90% degradation as valid. This is unfair as nowhere in the rules does it say that ‘interim’ means 90% [degradation],”

What are biodegradable plastics? 

  • Biodegradable plastics are those that can decompose naturally in the environment. The makeup structure of biodegradable plastics makes them easily break down by natural microorganisms, giving a product that is less harmful to the environment. 

How are Biodegradable Plastics Made? 

  • Biodegradable plastics are made in a way that they can breakdown or degrade when exposed to the sun’s ultra-violet radiation, enzymes, bacteria, water, or wind abrasion. They are made from renewable raw materials or all-natural plant or animal materials such as orange peels, corn oil, switchgrass, soybeans, micro-organisms, or starch 
  • The industrial processing of biodegradable plastics is like the manufacture of ordinary plastic, only that the materials used differ, and for bio-degradable plastics; they are the materials that can easily break down or decompose. They are mainly categorized into two: 
    • Bioplastics; are purely made from natural substances such as corn starch. Examples of those made from corn starch. In their manufacturing process, they save energy and emit less carbon as the plants used already have the same amount of carbon. 
    • Biodegradable plastics; made from traditional petrochemicals but designed to break down faster. They have additives that speed up their rate of decay or breakdown in the presence of oxygen and light. 
    • The presence of moisture also accelerates the breakdown process. Mainly, they get a breakdown in the presence of the sun’s UV light with some only breaking down at high industrial-scale temperatures. 
    • The most common examples include polybutyrate adipate terephthalate (PBAT), polybutylene succinate (PBS), polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH/PVA), and polycaprolactone (PCL). 

Advantages of Using Biodegradable Plastics 

  • Biodegradable Plastics are easy to Recycle 
  • They Consume less energy during their manufacture 
  • Biodegradable plastics are a better choice as they are broken down easily and can be absorbed by the soil or converted into compost. 
  • Composting bioplastic products can make the soil fertile, thereby enhancing soil fertility.   
  • Since fossil fuels are not required in the manufacturing process of such nature-friendly, biodegradable plastic products, carbon dioxide emissions are also curtailed. 
  • The use of biodegradable plastic products instead of traditional plastics lessens the amount of greenhouse gas emissions 

Disadvantages of Biodegradable Plastics 

  • Need for Costly Equipment for Both Processing and Recycling 
  • Risk of Contamination due to confusion differentiating between Bio-degradable and Non-Biodegradable Plastics 
  • Biodegradable Plastics may produce Methane in landfills 
  • There is a need for more crops and croplands to produce Biodegradable Plastics. 

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