Biodegradable Plastic Security seals — Green-washing?

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July 10, 2021

As we all know, the primary material of plastic security seals are polypropylene. Polypropylene material is a kind of polymer material made to be durable. Polypropylene is often used in plastic injection products such as plastic seals. As a disposable product, there is a huge demand for plastic seals. Plastic seals gain in popularity for their low cost. But the disposable plastic seals also caused a lot of pollution to our environment.

Nowadays, durable plastics cramp landfills, pile up in city streets, and create toxic problems in rivers, oceans, and drinking water. People care more about our environment. We don’t want to leave behind piles of waste or use materials that are “bad” for the environment. “Biodegradable” has become a trend. People tend to buy eco-friendly products. There were plenty of suppliers who claimed that they could produce a biodegradable plastic seal. However, do they actually biodegrade? 

Biodegradable plastic security seals on the market.

  At present, the more common way to manufacturing biodegradable plastic seals is by adding biodegradable additives during the production process. Some manufacturers even claim that the polymers olefins at least 60% in a year with the help of biodegradable additives. While some manufacturers also claim the additives are organic and nontoxic. In theory, biodegradable additives work by trigger the breakdown of the plastic when exposed to certain conditions (usually light/UV and oxygen). They may contain further additives to attracting microbes attract more microbes, increasing the degradation rate. Sounds very attractive. However, is biodegradable additives works like magic in stop plastic seal pollution? The durability and long-life of plastic is one of its most attractive features from a production standpoint and is one of the reasons it is so widely used in almost every aspect of our lives. The structure of the material determines it will not degrade in the natural environment. So, more and more people doubt whether adding biodegradable additives helps improve biodegradability? Let’s dive into the biodegradation of plastics and reveal the truth of biodegradable additives.

Way of degradation

  The sun’s rays have capabilities in its ultraviolet light (UV light) and infrared radiation, which bring about the incorporation of oxygen molecules into the plastic, a process known as oxidation. As more and more oxygen intermingles with the polymer in the plastic, it becomes brittle and easier to break into ever-diminishing pieces. But in our real life, this is an incredibly lengthy process, often taking as much as 100 years or more for the sun to break down the plastic completely and for the microbes to assimilate the polymer molecules. Because of these reasons, people often turn to alternative methods of plastic disposal. There are three forward-thinking ways–Photodegradation, thermal-oxygen degradation and biodegradation.  

1) Photodegradation

  Photodegradation is a process that changes the basic structure of a polymer by cross-linking, chain scission, and oxidative processes. Adding additives to plastics (such as PP and PE) will speed up the plastics’ break into tiny pieces. But whether small pieces of plastic continue to metabolize and convert to carbon dioxide (CO2), we have to mark a question mark.  

2) Thermal oxygen degradation

  Thermal-oxygen degradation is when polymers are exposed to shear stress, heat, oxygen, light, air, water environment and trigger chemical reactions leading to molecular weight and chemical composition changes. Polymers will degrade into small pieces very slow. So in practice, the manufacturer adds additives to accelerate the degradation speed of polymers. However, so far, there is still no clear evidence proving the polymers will fully degrade in a short time.  

3) Biodegradable

  When talking about “biodegradable,” we imply a particular method of creation or disposal. All materials are degradable. The difference is some materials degrade faster, and some materials degrade slower. Biodegradable materials are those fully degradable in a limited time. Based on the degradable environment, there are three types of biodegradable methods, “Compost degradation,” “soil degradation,” and “seawater degradation.” In theory, the microorganisms will completely convert biodegradable material into water, CO2, and biomass. The most common biodegradation materials are PLA, PBAT, starch-based plastics, or a mix of these three materials. In addition to biodegradable materials, currently, many manufacturers claim that they developed a new biodegradable additive. It’s hard to imagine a material you could add to polymers that would magically make them biodegradable. According to their information, these additives will attract more microorganisms to accelerate the degradation of plastics.

Do Biodegradable Additive Make Plastic Security Seals Degrade Fast?

  In the past few years, the world expects to use biodegradable additives to solve plastic pollution at a low cost. Manufacturers have started putting in biodegradable additives to make plastic fully biodegradable. But the results are doubtful. Some companies have their products tested and certified by the Biodegradability Products Institute, such as STMD 5511 ASTM D5511, 5526 and 7475 and other tests. But the biodegradability standards of ASTM aren’t rules. The scientific data shows no solid evidence to prove that traditional plastics with “biodegradable” additives break down faster. And there is also no evidence showing that those additives will continually convert those tiny pieces of plastics into water or CO2 in a limited time. Some other manufacturers replaced a part of polymer with PLA, PBAT or cornstarch in production. Are those products biodegradable? Of course, biodegradable materials like PLA, PBAT or cornstarch are fully degradable. But The unique physical properties of polymers decided that the process is lengthy and not fully degradable in natural landfills. Even if you add biodegradable material like PLA, PBAT, cornstarch, the polymer part is still not degradable. Compared with its actual effect, “biodegradable “seems to have become a new selling point for manufacturers, especially when people pay more attention to our environment nowadays. “Biodegradable” also helps build a company’s good image of care about our environment. So many plastic seal manufacturers market their product as biodegradable even if it’s not.

Disadvantages of Biodegradable Additive

  Indeed, adding biodegradable additives is an economical way to help plastic helps plastic break into pieces faster, but they actually cause more pollution to our environment. Think about it, those tiny pieces of plastics will stay in landfills for 50 years or even more, which is not environmentally friendly at all. Moreover, those tiny plastics are more likely to pollute the river, ocean, land and eventually affect human beings and all animals. And let’s not forget that biodegradable additives are not 100% organic or nontoxic. The biodegradable activities are misleading. People may throw away those “biodegradable” plastic wastes which are actually not biodegradable in the landfill. That could be a disaster to our environment.

Are there other eco-friendly plastic security seals?

  If none of the above solutions can solve plastic the plastic crisis, are there other feasible solutions? Raw materials are the main reason that causes plastic pollution. If we want to solve plastic pollution, we must find an answer from the source.  

100% biodegradable material for the production

  Can degradable materials solve the plastic crisis? If we use entirely biodegradable materials in production, will it solve plastic seal pollution completely? In theory, biodegradable materials like PLA, PBAT and cornstarch can be fully degradable. But Even those “biodegradable” plastics can only be degraded in special composting facilities with sufficient bacteria at a temperature above 58°C for 180 days. No polypropylene can degrade unconditionally in any environment! Therefore, in practice, the composting environment may be different from the ideal environment. The degradability rate of biodegradable material is not as high as expected. Another concern is that that biodegradable material is far more expensive. The price of biodegradable material is 3 to 5 times of PP material. The high cost will force customers to turn to traditional plastic seals. In addition, there is great demand for PP material on the market. However, the current productivity of degradable materials is relatively small and cannot meet the needs of the entire market.  

Recycle Plastic materials

  Sustainability is a matter of materials and production, delivery, service, and the whole product circle. We don’t have much information about what happens to the product in all situations of the product circle. To be sustainable means you deliver, consume and collect the product back as sustainable way as possible. If we can not eliminate plastic pollution from the beginning, can we improve our ability to recycle those PP materials? Another way of solving the plastic crisis is the recycling of plastic materials. Astonishingly, Americans generate over 30 million tons of plastic waste each year, and only 8 percent of that is recycled. While recycling plastic is a more favorable alternative, it is not a cost-effective option and has an unimpressive efficiency rate.


  The term “biodegradable” does not indicate source material. All things are biodegrading, but some things biodegrade more quickly than others. Biodegradable materials break down in specific environments like compost bins within a reasonable amount of time. Plastic pollution is a global issue. We can not solve this problem simply by adding plastic biodegradable additives. A way to improve things would be to have some lifecycle information on the container rather than just the word “biodegradable.” We hope that more widespread use of biodegradable plastics can help reduce stray waste on sea and land and maximize recycling targets.

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