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Is biodegradable and compostable plastic good for the environment?

As the market for "green" items expands, biodegradable and compostable plastic is becoming a more common option on store shelves. It's not surprising that individuals are wanting to use their purchasing power in ways that will purportedly leave a smaller footprint when you consider the fact that a dump truck's worth of plastic debris enters our oceans every minute.


The belief that a product or its packaging is more environmentally friendly if it is branded as "biodegradable" or "compostable" is what is driving the rising trend in plastic consumption. Regrettably, that is not always the case.


Understanding precisely how these materials are affecting the environment is crucial as the production of biodegradable plastics increases from 1.5M metric tonnes to almost5.3M in the coming years.

In order to better understand what biodegradable and compostable plastic imply for the environment, let's break down some often-asked questions:


What exactly are biodegradable and compostable plastic, and what is the difference between them?

Both compostable and biodegradable plastics can decompose, or "biodegrade," when microorganisms consume the component parts of the material, however, there are significant variations between these two concepts.


A biodegradable plastic is one that can decompose entirely and in a reasonable amount of time into elements found in nature. Though it seems to sense in theory, this rarely works in reality.


Compostable plastic degrades, too, but it is specially made and tested to be broken down in either domestic or commercial composting facilities. Compositing facilities allow for the transformation of plastic into a useable soil conditioner under certain circumstances like temperature and moisture.

How do they contribute to protecting the environment and lessening pollution from plastic waste?

Plastic that is compostable and biodegradable on its own cannot end the plastic pollution challenge. As an alternative, numerous levers must be pulled in order to decrease and reuse plastic and move toward a circular economy. In fact, we cannot even assume that these materials, if they become litter, won't harm the ecosystem.

To keep the material in the system and out of the environment, all plastic—including biodegradable and compostable varieties—must be collected and coupled with the appropriate recovery technologies.


Compostable and biodegradable plastic, however, can be useful in decreasing waste for some uses. Take-out containers that can be composted are a good example because they may be composted with leftover food.

Additionally, biodegradable and compostable plastic is frequently produced using biobased materials rather than fossil fuels, such as sugar beets, seaweed, or other plants. In this situation, and if sourced ethically, these materials can benefit the environment.

Can biodegradable and compostable plastic be bad for the environment?

Yes. These materials probably won't decompose as planned if they are not properly handled after becoming garbage.


Depending on what that particular item is intended for, compostable plastic must be recovered in an either residential or commercial compost. Problems arise when biodegradable plastic does not decompose under the same conditions as compostable plastic.


Biodegradable plastic is tested in a lab setting under a variety of controlled settings, including temperature, oxygen content, UV exposure, and other elements. However, since nature is uncontrolled, it is impossible to know with certainty if biodegradable plastic would actually decompose if it is left in the wild.


And when these materials do not degrade, they have the exact same effects as their non-biodegradable counterparts: they pollute the ecosystems and habitats that are essential to both nature and human life, and they add to the growing problem of plastic pollution.

I have a home compost bin; can I use biodegradable and compostable material in it?

Some compostable materials can be made at home, while others are made for industrial settings. If you have a compost pile at home, make careful to fill it exclusively with approved "home compostable" items (this should be clearly labelled on the item).


Find out what is accepted on the webpage for your local programme if you have compost picked up from your home. Even if they are certified as compostable, many commercial composters won't accept plastic waste.


The recycling stream can be contaminated with compostable and biodegradable plastic, so it's crucial to check your local recycling regulations and only recycle materials that your programme can accept.

In other words, does it matter if we use compostable or biodegradable plastic?

The main lesson is that neither compostable plastic nor biodegradable plastic should be utilised unless they bring value, are appropriate for the intended use, and are compatible with systems that can recover them.


These resources won't be sufficient to address the issue on their own. We know what works: reducing and reusing plastic in the first place. The businesses that make plastic goods and packaging, as well as the people who use them, must likewise concentrate on this.


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