Are you ready for plastic lesson #2?
This week I want to talk about types of plastic that we may consider as ‘sustainable’ : biodegradable and compostable plastics.
I set out on a quest to find out about these and disentangle some of the confusion for you.
First of all, I would like to point out that these are not the same - and in fact they have very different meanings.
Beware: biodegradable is not always good. I already mentioned some issues with it in this post but I would like to reiterate that the term in itself has a specific meaning. To label something as biodegradable, the material has to degrade into a material which is at least one level less toxic than the original. So biodegradable does NOT mean that it will degrade into something organic but only that it will become a little better than it was before .. talk about confusing consumers and greenwashing!!
Bioplastic is a type of biodegradable plastic made from biological materials other than petroleum. But while all bioplastic is biodegradable, not all biodegradable is bioplastic - so do not confuse the two. Biodegradable plastic can in fact also be made from petroleum , just like regular plastic. Confusing, right?
There are definitely some issues with biodegradable bags - one being that if they end up in the environment they can still be accidentally ingested, cause damage to the seabed by dragging, being trapped into machinery etc... and a recent article highlights just how long they can persist
To add to this confusion we have compostable plastic. As I mentioned already biodegradable is not synonymous of compostable. Compostable plastics are the ones that will decompose back into carbon dioxide, water and organic biomass only.
Sounds good , right? If it is compostable it will disappear and leave no trace, right?
let’s be careful with these assumptions - even compostable plastics can be bad.
Firstly it will not compost immediately , it will take some time!
Secondly, compostable materials will only compost with the right conditions. Most dumping areas do not provide these, and the processes of decomposition will contribute instead to producing methane and other gases which can contribute to climate change...so in the end, not so good...
To add on to the confusion not all ‘alternative plastics’ come with a label. Just to give you an example, a friend received a package from an organic beauty company and it was full of packaging chips. At first glance those reminded us of polystyrene and we were a bit angry that a natural beauty shop would use such packaging material. Another friend saw it and said ‘oh no don’t worry it’s made from corn’ and in effects from a second glance we realised it probably was... but we were left to then think : in which bin does it go?
Now, my friends are very environmentally conscious so they emailed the company to ask, but honestly who has the time for that? Or the space to hold the rubbish in the meantime before decision? I would think most would end up just throwing it in the normal bin...
I believe companies still have a long way to go and education is a must
But what can we do in the meantime?
overall, the only solution is to avoid using single use items all together
By doing something as small as always having cutlery in your bag (foldable camping ones are a good solution for those with little space), drinking coffee in rather than to go, drinking tap water where available we can have already some big impacts.
When planning a party or a barbecue, avoid single use -ask guests to bring their own or borrow from neighbours if you don’t have enough. Your friends can stay behind and help you clean up afterwards or come back in the morning for a round of gossips and clean up ;)
If you are doing plasticfreejuly you are probably already getting conscious of which areas of your life should be improved , and are doing a great job just by attempting it! if you would like to step it up even further, then reconsider your lifestyle all together. Think about living slow rather than so fast paced that everything is on the go! You will be surprised by how much less plastic you will produce!
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