Biodegradability greenwash

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Biodegradable does not – necessarily – mean what people think it does.

BiodegradabilityWe are told that this plastic and that plastic, because it is made from or with plant-based polymers, is biodegradable. But what does biodegradability for plastic, including the vegetable-based plastic, mean? In short all – yes, all – plastic will biodegrade, but that does not mean that it will, miraculously, turn into harmless soil; it will not. And that includes the plant-based ones. They biodegrade, at least in Nature, in a similar way to ordinary plastic, namely into small, smaller and ever smaller plastic particles. Some of the plant-based ones may, in commercial hot composting plants be composted but not in the normal environment, not even in that that of a compost heap or even compost bin. The same also goes for compostable. It does not – necessarily – mean it will work in your compost heap. More than likely it will not.

It does not even work for the so-called compostable plastic liners for the food waste caddy. After two years they were still not composted in the home composter. Again they only work, if at all. in a commercial hot composting plant and not at home.

Another great villain in this department are the wet wipes of all kinds that are causing havoc in the sewers and sewer systems and waste water treatment plants. While it may says “flushable” and even biodegradable on the packs they are neither, regardless of what the manufacturers may claim to the contrary.

Today's tea bags also are – no longer – compostable as they are either entirely made of nylon, as in the case of at least one manufacturer in the UK, or partly. They still can, like the “compostable” waste food caddy liners, be found years after almost entirely whole in the compost heap. So they are not compostable either.

We encounter greenwash, it would seem, at almost every corner along the street, so to speak, and the companies even use this to push products on us at a higher price compared to the “ordinary” products because they have been greenwashed.

Plastics today are so ubiquitous that we almost cannot get away from them. A large, if not indeed the largest, percentage of all packaging is, well, plastic of some kind or the other. And, if and when we cannot avoid it we should – at least afterward – stop and think as to whether there is a way that we can use, reuse, repurpose or upcycle the packaging, be that a plastic jar, bottle or whatever, for something for our use or for someone else to use. Well before we even think of tossing the thing into the plastic recycling.

The other problem with so-called biodegradable plastics, the plant-based ones, is that they cannot be recycled into other plastic products, or at least with some difficulty, and that the that kind of polymer cannot be mixed successfully with oil-based polymers to make new products. Looks like we have shot ourselves in the foot here.

It would appear that probably the only way out of this dilemma would be to return to the ways of our grandparents and their parents, such as shopping loose products (not all that easy), taking our own shopping bags to the stores (very easy and simple), and so on and so forth. We certainly cannot rely on industry and not even government to tell us the truth, it would appear, nor it would seem, to make and bring about any positive changes.

© 2017