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Plastic continues to make big news, especially in Connecticut where a single-use plastic bag fee took effect on August 1st. With estimates of 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of plastic finding its way to the world's oceans in a single year, the single-use plastic bag fee is aimed to reduce the amount of plastic used throughout the state. The measure has stirred up questions about plastics and their environmental impacts. UConn associate professor of chemistry Nicholas Leadbeater is here to help answer some of these questions.
Q: Why are plastics so bad for the environment? Do they eventually degrade? If so, how long does it take?
Plastics - None - Additives - Time - Hundreds
A: Regular plastics with none of these additives put in them take a really long time to degrade—like hundreds of years. Regular plastics with the additives can be tuned to degrade in a few months. Bioplastics can degrade fast or slow (in the case of durable plastics). Compostable plastics can degrade in 3-6 months.
Q: What is plastic, anyway? How is it made?
Terms - Plastics - Polymers - Polymers - Units
A: In broad terms, plastics are polymers. Polymers are made up of repeating units of small molecules joined together to make big chains. This can include other natural molecules like DNA and proteins, which count as polymers too. Not all polymers are plastic. Polymers come in all sorts of shapes and forms and can be used for a range of different applications, one of which is in making plastic bags. The majority of plastic polymers come from fossil fuel precursors, that is to say the come from crude oil.
Q: Can you tell us about bioplastics, biodegradable, and compostable plastics and how they differ?
Classes - Plastics - Polymers - Materials - Fats
A: These classes of plastics basically come from polymers that are made from biologically-derived starting materials such as vegetable fats and oils, straw, woodchips, sawdust and other such things. They are basically "made"...
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