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With fossil fuel consumption on the rise, many people are searching for ways to minimize their impact on the Earth. In response to this, alternative plastics have been developed that claim to be “biodegradable” or “compostable”. If this seems too good to be true, it’s because it is. These plastics still negatively affect our planet and release carbon emissions during their production. Don’t be fooled by the label on your plastic. Just because you think you’re minimizing your impact on the Earth doesn’t mean you actually are. Let’s talk about the different types of plastic so that you can make a meaningful change in your plastic consumption!

Conventional Plastics

These are the traditional plastics you see in most packaging. They are created from products derived from petroleum and they take hundreds of years to break down. When they break down, they don’t disintegrate completely. Instead they turn into smaller pieces known as “micro-plastics”. These micro-plastics can pollute natural ecosystems and harm wildlife.These are the types of plastics that can be placed in your recycling bin and then recycled into new plastics.


Biodegradable Plastics

These plastics are also made from petroleum products, but they contain additional chemical additives. These additives make the plastic break down more quickly than conventional plastics, but, similar to conventional plastics, they are only broken down into microplastic that goes on to be harmful to the environment. The additives put into these plastics prevent them from being recycled with conventional plastics. If they are mixed in with conventional plastics, they will contaminate the plastic and make it impossible to recycle.



Bioplastics are made from plant biomass, such as corn, wheat, and sugar cane. Bioplastics have the ability to degrade; however this can only happen in specific industrial conditions. This means that putting these plastics in your recycling bin won’t lead to them actually getting recycled. Also, some bioplastics still leave plastic particles when they are composted. Bioplastics are the best option in terms of compostability, but they still aren’t great.


So, what type of plastic should you use? The most optimistic answer is none. It might make life more difficult, but avoiding plastic is the best way to truly minimize your carbon footprint and negative impact on the Earth. I know that completely eliminating plastic from your life can be difficult, but making even a small effort to limit your plastic consumption can make a difference. Instead of using single-use grocery bags, bring your own! Rely on reusable containers to store and transport your food instead of single-use sandwich bags. Start small and be creative!

A freshman studying English at the U of U.