Biodegradable plastics

There is no such thing as ‘simply’ bioplastics. The discussion is often confused by misleading terminology, here is your simple guide to getting it right. For more detailed insights, see this blog post.

Biodegradable plastic

Plastic which degrades under biological (mainly microbial) action. Some biodegradable plastics are compostable (but not all), which means they only degrade under controlled conditions (e.g. industrial composting sites). Our focus is on compostable plastic, as these, under some circumstances, can be included in compost schemes and support separate waste collection.

Compostable plastics

Compostable plastics have to meet certain requirements, which are defined by specific standards. Most common is the EU standard EN 13432, which is quite widely used as a reference. The key requirement is that the plastic should be compostable in industrial conditions: compostable plastics that meet set criteria, carry specific labels, and are validated by a neutral third party (some examples presented).

Some confusing terms or materials which can be misleading:

What are limits and conditions for the use of compostable plastic

Compostable plastics are not a solution to littering and cannot be seen as a 100% replacement for regular plastic. Reusable options should always be first choice, whenever suitable! Compostable plastics only biodegrade in specific conditions and must be connected to separate collection of organics and composting schemes.

Compostable plastics should always be sent to composting! When mixed with other plastics, they can hamper mechanical properties of recyclates; when landfilled, their degradation in the absence of oxygen releases methane, which is a strong greenhouse gas.

♥ Some examples of where compostable plastic makes sense

  • Compostable bags to make separate collection of organics more user-friendly and maximise captures, above all (but not only) in urban areas
  • Compostable tableware in conditions where reusable is not possible (e.g. outdoor festivals with no
    dishwashers)
  • Compostable coffee capsules if traditional coffee-making is not possible (e.g. many offices)
  • Some specific fruit & vegetable wrappers as a transitional plan while moving towards package-free shops
  • Disaster relief operations ♥

 

 

 

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