Are Bioplastics a Load of Waffle?

If you are wondering if compostable or bio plastics are the right thing for your business, or if you should accept them at the lunchtime takeaway counter then read on!
As the world seeks to get a handle on plastic pollution and the issues of our single-use throwaway culture, compostable and bioplastics are being presented as the solution to plastic pollution. And with terms like bio or compostable, which we all understand to be as natural as a rotting apple core; why wouldn’t they be? 

 

So lets take a look at how natural and a good solution they really are,

Oxodegradable plastics

These oxodegradable plastics, often manifesting as biodegradable bags or straws can be described as bio-plastics because they degrade in exposure to sunlight and oxygen. 

 

HOWEVER….they are actually made from oil and really just break down into micro-plastics.

SO….the EU is banning them in 2020. 

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Compostable Plastics

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Biopac’s ‘compostable’ and ‘biodegradable’ cup
For a plastic to describe itself as compostable or biodegradable it has been certified to EN13432 standards which means that it will break down within 90 days in a composting facility at 60 degrees (In-vessel composters). 

 

SO…. this rules out it becoming compost if it goes:

  • in a compost heap in the garden
  • into landfill
  • in the sea or becomes litter.

This is because none of these places get that hot. And if it ends up in a general waste bin that goes for waste-to-energy, that’s way too hot for it to become compost! 

WHATS MORE….if they end up in a kerbside food caddy, the reality is that they will get pulled out at the depackaging process, that pulls out all the plastics and packaging that affect the quality of the compost being produced. 

THEREFORE… if you are a business that wants to use them you need to organise a collection to a plant that will accept compostable plastics- around 20-25 in the UK (usually in-vessel composters). 
 

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The certification for home-compostable items

Home compostable

The home composting standard is given to materials, usually cellulose types like cellophane, that will break down at temperatures of 20-30 degrees within 60 days. 

 

SO…these materials are suitable for customers who have a home-composting bin in their back garden. 

HOWEVER…it is no good if the composter is in the shade and doesn’t get very warm, or if people don’t have a composter and they put it in the kerbside compost caddy, as it will get pulled out at the depackaging process also.

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Sachets made from seaweed

​New ‘edible’ materials 

There are new developments happening all the time in the world of packaging, such as the seaweed sachets and water balls, as well as sweet wrappers being developed out of waste beer materials (not sure if you will have to over 18 to eat the sweets). The thing with all these materials including plastics is to consider:

 

  • where are they being used
  • what is it’s end-of-life scenario 
  • is there the waste infrastructure to support this?
 
 
Want all the insights into Waste and recycling, watch the Waste 101 recording
 

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