Understand Difference

Breaking Down the Benefits of Biodegradable Polymers in a Plastic World

Introduction to Polymers

Polymers are long-chain organic molecules made up of repeat units called monomers. They are versatile materials with wide-ranging applications in many sectors of modern life, from packaging to electronics.

Polymers can be either natural or synthetic, and each has its own set of characteristics and properties that make them suitable for specific uses. In this article, we will explore the differences between natural and synthetic polymers and highlight the environmental problems caused by the latter.

We will also delve into the world of biodegradable polymers and their specialties, including their eco-friendly nature.

Natural vs Synthetic Polymers

Natural polymers, as their name suggests, are those that occur naturally in the environment. Some examples of natural polymers include proteins, cellulose, chitin, and DNA.

These polymers have specific properties that make them suitable for a range of applications. For example, cellulose is an excellent material for paper and cardboard production, while chitin is used to make biodegradable packaging materials.

On the other hand, synthetic polymers are human-made materials that are created using various chemical processes. Some common examples of synthetic polymers include polyethylene, PVC, polystyrene, and nylon.

These materials have unique properties that make them ideal for use in products such as plastic bottles, electrical wire coatings, and insulated foam. However, synthetic polymers are also responsible for significant environmental problems in the form of plastic waste that litters the land and oceans.

Environmental Problems with Synthetic Polymers

The most significant environmental problem associated with synthetic polymers is their resistance to biodegradation. Synthetic polymers can take hundreds or even thousands of years to break down fully.

This means that the plastic waste generated from products like single-use plastic bottles and packaging can remain in the environment for centuries, causing harm to wildlife and ecosystems. Furthermore, synthetic polymers require large amounts of energy to produce, and this energy is predominantly derived from fossil fuels.

The production process also generates copious amounts of greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change. Finally, the disposal of synthetic polymers, either in landfill sites or through incineration, releases harmful chemicals and toxins into the environment, further exacerbating environmental problems.

Biodegradable Polymers Definition

To combat the environmental problems caused by synthetic polymers, scientists and engineers have developed biodegradable polymers. Biodegradable polymers are materials that can break down naturally in the environment, either through microbial or enzymatic action.

Biodegradable polymers are defined by their degree of degradability, which can range from a few months to a few years.

Degradability of Polymers

The degradability of polymers depends on a variety of factors, including their chemical composition, molecular weight, and exposure to sunlight, moisture, and temperature. Generally, biodegradable polymers are made from natural materials like starch, cellulose, protein, or from synthetic materials modified to improve their biodegradation.

Specialties of Biodegradable Polymers

Biodegradable polymers have several specialties that make them an eco-friendly and sustainable alternative to synthetic polymers. Firstly, biodegradable polymers break down into natural compounds like water, carbon dioxide, and methane, which are not harmful to the environment.

Secondly, biodegradable polymers are derived from renewable resources, such as corn, potatoes, and sugarcane, reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Additionally, biodegradable polymers are versatile in their applications, and are used as alternatives to traditional polymers in many sectors, from food packaging to personal care products.

For example, biodegradable plastic bags are increasingly replacing single-use plastic bags in supermarkets, reducing the amount of plastic waste generated.


To conclude, polymers are an essential part of modern life, but their impact on the environment cannot be ignored. Natural and synthetic polymers have their unique properties and characteristics that make them useful for specific applications, but synthetic polymers have caused significant environmental problems due to their long lifespan and resistance to biodegradation.

Biodegradable polymers offer a viable alternative, and their specialties, including their eco-friendly nature and versatility, make them an attractive option for use in many sectors. It is important to remember that our choice of materials has a profound impact on the environment, and we should be mindful of choosing eco-friendly alternatives wherever possible.

Biodegradable Polymers Types

Biodegradable polymers come in different types and can have various applications. These types are categorized based on their chemical structure and origin.

Some of the major types of biodegradable polymers are agro-polymers, bio-polyesters, and biomass products.

Agro Polymers

Agro-polymers, also known as natural polymers, are derived from plant, animal, or microbial sources. Common examples of agro-polymers include polysaccharides such as cellulose, starch, and chitin, and proteins such as collagen, keratin, and casein.

Polysaccharides are the most abundant natural biopolymers and are widely used in various applications. Starch and cellulose, for instance, are used extensively in the production of biodegradable packaging materials, while chitin is used in the manufacture of wound dressings and cosmetics.

Animal-derived proteins, such as keratin and collagen, can be used to produce biodegradable films with good mechanical properties. These films are suitable for use in medical applications such as wound dressing and tissue engineering.


Bio-polyesters are a group of biodegradable polymers that are synthesized through microbial production or by conventional synthetic methods. The microbial-produced bio-polyesters can be synthesized by bacteria such as Ralstonia, Cupriavidus, and Pseudomonas.

These bacteria use various metabolic pathways to produce polymers such as polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), which is used in packaging materials and medical implants. Conventional synthetic bio-polyesters are derived from biobased materials such as lactic acid, succinic acid, and citric acid.

These materials can be used to produce materials such as polylactic acid (PLA), a biodegradable plastic used in the manufacture of items such as disposable utensils, straws, and packaging materials.

Biomass Products

Biomass products are biodegradable polymers derived from natural agricultural waste, forestry residues, and grasses. Biomass products are an eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-based products, and the production process for biomass products generates fewer greenhouse gases.

Biomass products are used in a range of applications, from packaging to the automotive industry.

Examples of Biodegradable Polymers

Lactic Acid

Lactic acid is a biodegradable polymer that is mainly derived from the fermentation of carbohydrates. Lactic acid can also be synthesized through chemical reactions.

Lactic acid and its derivatives are widely used in industries such as food, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. In the food industry, lactic acid is used as a preservative and flavor enhancer.

In cosmetics, lactic acid is used as an exfoliating agent to improve skin texture.

Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA)

Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) are a group of biodegradable polymers that are synthesized through bacterial fermentation. PHAs are synthesized by various bacteria such as Pseudomonas, Azotobacter, and Alcaligenes.

PHAs are used in the manufacture of biodegradable packaging materials, medical implants, and controlled drug release systems.

Petroleum-based Polyesters

Petroleum-based polyesters are a group of biodegradable polymers that are synthesized from petrochemicals. These polymers include polycaprolactone (PCL) and aliphatic co-polyesters and aromatic co-polyesters.

These polymers exhibit excellent mechanical properties, flexibility, and biodegradability. They are used in various applications such as tissue engineering and drug delivery.


Biodegradable polymers offer a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to synthetic polymers. These polymers come in different types, each with specific properties that make them suitable for various applications.

Examples of biodegradable polymers include lactic acid, polyhydroxyalkanoates, and petroleum-based polyesters. The versatility of these polymers and their biodegradable nature makes them an ideal choice for sustainable development.

Biodegradable Polymers in Biomedical Applications

Biodegradable polymers are increasingly being used in biomedical applications due to their biocompatibility, bio-absorbable quality, and bonding properties. These qualities have made them ideal for surgical uses, drug delivery systems, and other medical applications.


Biocompatibility is the ability of a material to interact with living organisms or tissues without causing an adverse reaction. Biodegradable polymers are biocompatible, as they do not cause inflammation or toxicity in the body.

This makes them an ideal material for biomedical applications, such as implants, drug delivery systems, and wound healing.

Surgical Uses

Biodegradable polymers have found use in surgical procedures because of their ability to be absorbed by the body over time. The bio-absorbable quality makes them an ideal material for procedures that require separation, closure, or scaffolding, such as in bone fixation.

Biodegradable polymers can also be used as adhesives in surgical procedures. Liquid-type polymers are used to bond tissues together, while solid-state polymers can act as a scaffold to support tissue growth.

In addition to bone fixation, biodegradable polymers are also useful materials for soft tissue repair and wound healing. They can act as scaffold materials that support the growth of new tissue, or as encapsulation materials for cells or drugs.

Certain polymers have been developed specifically for use in these applications and can mimic the natural extracellular matrix of tissues.

Drug Delivery Systems

Biodegradable polymers have also found use in drug delivery systems. They can be used as transporter systems to deliver drugs either by invasive or non-invasive methods.

Biodegradable polymers can be formulated into pill covers, coatings, or matrices that allow controlled release of drugs. This ensures consistent dosing of the medication and reduces the risk of adverse side effects.

Drug delivery systems can also be made specifically to target certain areas within the body, increasing the efficiency of the medication. The development of biodegradable nanoparticle drug delivery systems allows for even more precise delivery of medication.

These particles are able to pass through biological barriers, making it possible to target specific sites within the body, such as the brain or tumors.


Biodegradable polymers have a variety of applications in biomedical fields, including surgical procedures and drug delivery systems. Their biocompatibility, bio-absorbability, and bonding properties make them an ideal material for use in these applications.

The use of biodegradable polymers not only has benefits for patients, but also for the environment, as they do not contribute to the accumulation of plastic waste. As technology advances, there is no doubt that biodegradable polymers will continue to play an essential role in the future of medicine.

In conclusion, biodegradable polymers offer a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to synthetic polymers. These polymers come in different types, including agro-polymers, bio-polyesters, and biomass products, and have a range of applications in various industries.

Biodegradable polymers have made significant strides in biomedical fields, with their biocompatibility, bio-absorbable quality, and bonding properties making them ideal for surgical procedures, drug delivery systems, and other medical applications. The use of biodegradable polymers not only benefits patients but also the environment, as they do not contribute to plastic waste.

As technology advances, it is clear that biodegradable polymers will continue to play an essential role in the future of medicine.

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