More and more people are looking for ways to avoid consuming plastic products and adding to the growing amount of plastic waste ending up in our landfill and oceans, like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
While some people are going the zero waste route, others are looking for eco-friendly plastic alternatives for everyday products. One of those alternatives is products made out of biodegradable or compostable materials.
Although biodegradable plastics and biobased compostable plastics are not new alternatives to traditional petroleum-based plastics, there still seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding “greener” plastic products.
Much like the education needed to properly sort recyclables (which let’s face it, can STILL be rather confusing) here are a few things you should know about compostable plastics that can help you pick the right products and dispose of them properly.
1. Biodegradable Plastic DOES NOT EQUAL Compostable Plastic
And the difference does matter.
Biodegradable refers to a material breaking down with the help of microorganisms. To be labelled a biodegradable plastic, there is no time limit set on when the product breaks down and these plastics CAN leave behind toxic residue.
Compostable refers to a material capable of breaking down into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass at the same rate as cellulose. Compostable plastic must also disintegrate and become indistinguishable in the compost and CANNOT leave any toxic material behind.
That means compostable plastic breaks down to a point that it can help in the support of plant growth. Pretty awesome, right? #thecircleoflife
2. Compostable plastic WILL NOT biodegrade in a landfill
Throwing a “green” plastic product into a landfill defeats the purpose of creating and consuming biodegradable and compostable plastics in the first place.
Many people think, oh well, it’ll at least break down eventually...but...well actually, no it probably won’t.
These special plastics need air, moisture and sunlight to break down properly and unfortunately, landfills tend to entomb waste and deprives it from these necessary elements.
If you buy compostable plastics it’s up to YOU to make sure it ends up in a composting environment.
Hint: this is not a compost friendly environment.
3. Biodegradable and compostable plastics DO NOT mix with recyclable plastics
Now we already gave you the “don’t throw compostable plastic in the garbage” lecture but remember that goes for the blue bin too. This can create a wasteful extra step for the recycling plant to sort out bioplastics from recyclable plastics or contaminate the recycled materials in the process which again, defeats the whole purpose of both environmentally friendly initiatives.
This is why clear labelling is so crucial: compost your compostables!
4. Not all biodegradable and bioplastics are free of pthalates or bisphenol A (BPA)
Most people see the word bio and think “natural” and associate it with safe. But safe or non-toxic plastics are determined by further testing to ensure a bioplastic is free of harmful chemicals like lead, cadmium, BPA and pthalates.
This is another instance where reading the fine print is important.
Some compostable plastics will break down in a home composting environment
While certifications tend to let you know if a compostable plastic meets the standards (like US ASTM-6400-99) for an industrial composting facility, there are bioplastics out there that will also break down in a home composting environment.
The main difference is timing. In an industrial composting environment, materials can break down faster because they often grind the materials, consistently turn the piles over and reach higher temperatures. The rate at which a compostable plastic also depends on the thickness of the product aka a compostable takeout container will not breakdown at the same rate a compostable utensil.
Have more questions about compostable plastics? Feel free to ask us anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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