Biodegradable vs Photodegradable vs Compostable

This post is a long time coming. With many different companies talking about a greener packaging they have I have gotten confused about what actually is environmentally friendly packaging. Then after visiting the plastic recycling centre in Scotland and hearing all about plastic recycling and whether biodegradable plastic fits into plastic recycling, I found out some new information. Once when looking at a seemingly green website I checked their packaging which they claimed to be great for the environment as it is photodegradable. Was it greenwashing or was it just ignorance, I don’t know, so I decided to find out properly what these packaging words mean that are floating around. I certainly don’t know everything, but I did research into multiple sources to find the most reliable information. I hope it will help some of you understand these words as well. And I am talking about the packaging connecting to food more than anything else, but it does correlate to other industries as well.

Biodegradable vs Photodegradable vs Compostable - byLiiL

Photodegradable

Photodegradable means that it will decompose with sunlight, meaning it will break into smaller pieces when subjected to light. The big problem with photodegradable packaging is that it sounds like it would be a good option for the environment, however, nearly everything in the world will decompose, the question is how quickly will it decompose and whether it will leave any harmful substances when it does. Some products may take thousands of years to decompose and in many cases when they decompose they release harmful chemicals into the environment and the waterways. The fact that something is photodegradable doesn’t tell much about the product, other than it requires sunlight to do so.

Biodegradable vs Photodegradable vs Compostable - byLiiL

Biodegradable

Biodegradable means that the decomposing happens when the items are subject to living organisms such as fungi or bacteria. In general, biodegradable is a term associated with green packaging, and it’s been considered as a great alternative because what comes from nature goes back. However, biodegradable doesn’t always mean it comes from nature.

There are several terms that all can be confused with each other, but don’t actually mean the same thing; biodegradable plastic, bioplastic and biodegradable materials such as paper. Biodegradable plastic is essentially plastic that is designed to decompose quickly by adding additives to them, and bioplastic is plastic made out of natural materials such as corn starch. Both of these are essentially plastics as they are made out of polymers, but each of these materials behaves differently when decomposing, it takes them varied times to decompose and they require different environments for decomposing often high temperatures and possibly even UV lights. Biodegradable does not mean we can throw the items with an easy conscience into the bin, as the landfill is not an optimum environment for them to decompose and instead the decomposing could release methane gas. Nor can we throw them in the compost without knowing what they are actually made out of or whether they are suitable for home or industrial composting (more on that in composting section).

 

Biodegradable Plastic

The big problem with biodegradable is that it is often misconceived as a natural material that is better for the environment, but this is a generalisation. Lately biodegradable plastic has been in the news for all the soda bottles which were contributing to the oceans microplastic problem because the plastic degraded quickly but only into small pieces instead of disappearing completely. If packaging is market as biodegradable it really requires further information on in what conditions is it biodegradable and whether it leaves harmful residues when it is biodegraded. In a sense, biodegradable is a buzz word as it doesn’t inform consumers of what they need to do with the packaging. It could require industrial composting and often it cannot be recycled with other plastics as it rather contaminates them. Biodegradable products are not regulated.

 

Bioplastic

Bioplastics, on the other hand, are derived from renewable sources such as corn starch, sugarcane, bacteria etc. Bioplastic can be made into PLA which is compostable in the right environment or PET which is not compostable, so whether bioplastic is compostable is dependant on what kind of plastic is created with it. This also brings the question of how to dispose of it, as PLA could potentially be put into a compost bin but it would contaminate the plastic recycling making it unrecyclable and PET would contaminate the compost but could possibly be recycled with conventional PET plastic.

As bioplastic sounds like an excellent alternative there are some serious environmental consequences. To make bioplastic a lot of crops is grown which requires intensive agriculture, which is not modified in the same way as food agriculture is and it can lead to soil erosion and fertilizer runoff. On top of the machinery that is used in agriculture, possible deforestation and space it takes from food agriculture. Bioplastic made out of bacteria although was the first known bioplastic invented in 1926, is still rarely used.

Biodegradable vs Photodegradable vs Compostable - byLiiL

Compostable

Compostable means naturally derived products that can be put amongst decaying natural substances to decompose by microorganisms eventually turning into nutrient-rich substance. There are two types of compostable products; they can either be composted in a home compost or they need to a special environment that only industrial composting can create.

Composting is a fairly efficient way to process natural waste with great benefits. Compost is a great natural fertiliser that reduces soil erosion, controls ground moisture and weeds and restores soil fertility.

Problems with compost result when the compost is contaminated with synthetic substances or with materials that have toxic dyes for example, or if the home compost is contaminated with other compostable material that requires industrial composting. Food ingredients are quite simple to understand that they are compostable, but the packaging is not quite so simple. There are more rules regarding marking on the packaging about compostability because the packaging needs to be tested according to the compost standards whether it is compostable. That is why, in the UK, most home composts are said to only accept food compost, as any kind of packaging could make people confused about what can be composted and it could easily be contaminated. One issue I have with the UK compost is that they do not even seem to take tissues, but they do take teabags which have plastic in them. So if you are reading this, stop putting tea bags into your compost unless you are 100% sure it doesn’t have plastic in it.

When it comes to food packaging compostable is one of the most sensible options, as food contaminated the plastic and the paper, which makes them unrecyclable. When the packaging is compostable and it has food scraps in it, it all just goes into the same bin. Compostable packaging is regulated and therefore if you see their standards on the packaging you know what you are buying into and how to dispose of the packaging. However, if compostable items are sent to the landfill they produce biogas and methane which are not great for the environment.

These are some of the labels that you can find on packaging which is compostable, but there might be others which should be clearly marked on the packaging.

At the moment I am excited about Vegware which is a Scottish company supplying certified compostable packaging worldwide, Alterwaste for coming up with compostable new solutions to food waste and Percol for having their coffee packet in compostable coffee bags. What companies are you excited about?

With love,

Lii

Packaging photos are from Oleg Magni from Pexels.

Other articles you might be interested in:

Doing Small Changes Won’t Save the Planet – But It’s a Start

Is Recycling Sustainable

World Recycling Week

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Sustainable Reading Nr. 6

Fashion

MPs Say Fast Fashion Brands Inaction On Ethics Is Shocking – Again, many NGOs activists have been saying this for years and for the MPs to now contribute to the discussion feels slow, nevertheless, they are discussing it. The article points out what the government’s committee on the topic found out from some of the major UK high street brands about their sustainable and ethical initiatives, and it ranks these high street brands on the basis of their answers. The problem is that although they are ranked into three groups there isn’t much information on what they are really doing about sustainability and ethics and whether this is supported by evidence. To that, there were many companies that were missing from the list such as Zara, H&M, Victorias Secret and many others.

Polartec Commits To 100% Recycled Materials – The header is actually a bit wrong as it explains how Polartec commits to 100% recycled and biodegradable materials. It is still amazing to read about!

Sustainable Reading Nr. 6 - byLiiL

Social

Is Sunscreen The New Margarine? – An excellent article that makes you think. Is the dermatological industry just trying to get their money’s worth and are you getting enough vitamin D?

This Teen Wrote A Bill To End Period Poverty In School – How amazing is that! When the adults are not working on things that they should be working on, there is hope that in the future these young people will grow and make the world a better place!

This Pakistani Province Just Made Polio Vaccines Mandatory For All Schoolchildren – This is a big step to eradicate the disease from the country and I hope it will go well. Although I am interested to see whether the government will support this financially.

The Future Of Gender Equality Lies In The Hands Of Female Coders: UN Chief – It is great that they are recognising that by having more women knowledgeable in the skills needed for the future and I hope there will be more support to the girls as well!

Sustainable Reading Nr. 6 - byLiiL

Plastic

A Better Way To Make Plastic Out Of Sulfur – Alternative source from which to make plastic.

Cork Vs. Cap: Which Wine Stopper Is Better? – Going through different corks and caps and what are their benefits, as well as which ones are good ecologically.

This Water Bottle Dissolves If It Ever Enters the Ocean – They talk about a biodegradable water bottle that is made out of “biopolymer called PHA that’s comes from a fermenting bacteria”. It is supposed to decompose when it touch with naturally occurring bacteria. That is how biodegradability works, however, in the article there was no proof how quickly this happens or whether it leaves any harmful chemicals behind. I will be in a post soon explaining the differences and characteristic of biodegradability and other such words relating to packaging so stay tuned.

Researchers Just Found A Brilliant Way To Convert Plastic Waste Into Fuel – The heat it up so high it is supposed to turn back into oil. If it actually works then brilliant, but it does make me wonder how it took them this long to come up with such an idea.

Sustainable Reading Nr. 6 - byLiiL

Other News

French and German Farmers Forced To Destroy Crops After GMOs Found In Bayer/Monsanto Seeds – The headline itself raises few thoughts. Mostly, GREAT they are actually doing something about the GMO seeds, the second, I feel sorry for the farmers. In the article Bayer/Monsanto say they will be reimbursing the farmers for the lost revenue, however, it is still not clear how the illegal seeds got into the crop. I really hope countries would start supporting more organic farming and especially non-Bayer-Monsanto seeds.

How Danone, Kashi and O’Lakes Are Backing Sustainable Farming – Article talks about what are the issues for farmers to transfer to sustainable farming and how the big companies are looking for more sustainable production. It brings out one problem, which is the price for the farmers to transfer to sustainable farming and how it can be a big barrier, where although the payout is going to be better in the long term, in short term can be too costly for the farmers to do. Seeing this, shouldn’t the big companies and governments support them through this transition?

The Soon-To-Be Worlds Biggest Offshore Wind Farm Will Start Powering Britain This Week – How great! I hope the whole country will soon be completely powered by clean energy!

Sea Turtle Populations Soared by 980% After Legal Protections – It is great to hear that the protections are working and animals are rebounding. Although the number is from a median, and might not tell the whole truth to a person who doesn’t know enough about the topic.

Sustainable Reading Nr. 6 - byLiiL

All pictures are from Pexels.

What news did you find were interesting lately? Share the links in the comment section below.

With love,

Lii

 

Check out the other sustainable reading posts: Nr. 5, Nr. 4, Nr.3.

You can also find me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Sustainable News Nr.3

Climate Change

Global Warming of 1.5°C – The already famous report about the future of our planet in 12 years if nothing is changed at the moment.

UN Says Climate Genocide Is Coming. It’s Actually Worse Than That – And this article explains the report in a clearer language, albeit in a bit on the side of fright tactic, however, at this point that might be needed to put pressure on decision-makers to reinforce new laws to protect the environment and reverse climate change.

6 Selfish Reasons You Should Care About The Rainforest and 10 Easy Ways You Can Protect It – Holly writes very comprehensively about the issues we face from deforestation of the rainforest and provides very easy solutions that each of us can do.

Biodynamic Farming – What Is It? – Interesting different type of farming. Can it reverse the climate change or reduce our emissions?

Sustainable News Nr.3 - byLiiL

Europe’s Meat and Dairy Production Must Half By 2050, Expert Warns – Even if we won’t all become vegetarians or vegans we should be consuming meat and dairy at a more conscious level. Do we all really need meat at every meal?

Capitalism and Climate Change – Interesting read into the economics of the future with climate change and sustainability.

A New Frontier In Wind Energy On Native American Land, Cultivated By Six Sioux Tribes – Amazing to read about!

Bill Gates Backs Innovative New Carbon Fee In Washington – “Companies openly opposed to the bill include oil companies, such as BP, Chevron, Phillips, and Andeavor, have raised $22.45 million to challenge it”. It is quite clear who would benefit from this not going forward and it is appaling to see that they are the ones who can put a lot of money to it, money that they could spend on innovating themselves! I wish the bill will pass and many others appear around the US and the rest of the world, we need it!

Confused By Climate Change, Japan’s Famous Cherry Blossoms Bloom Six Months Early – climate change affects more than people and animals, nature as well!

Sustainable News Nr.3 - byLiiL

Social

The True Story Of Fatima Al-Fihri , the Founder of the Worlds First Known University – It is quite incredible to think that the first known university is founded by a woman and not in Europe as well. Women have always been able to do anything they wish!

The Female Price Of Male Pleasure – Great insight into why we shouldn’t always question why did the woman not get out of the uncomfortable situation.

India’s Unplanned Pregnancies Are Down Thanks To Better Health And Education: UN – An example of how caring for women and education can be good for climate change and the economy as well.

Sustainable News Nr.3 - byLiiL

Fashion

The Environment’s New Clothes: Biodegradable Textiles Grown From Live Organisms – This is not new, but I am happy to see this being talked more and more about, maybe someday in the future, it will become more mainstream?

Dirty Fashion – Reports discussing the toxicity of fibres in the fashion supply chain and what is being done about them.

Inside Italy’s Shadow Economy – The hidden labour that is hard to uncover and although this article only dives into the problem in Italy, this is the way many it happens in many other countries as well. It is how employees can go underpaid in the UK where a minimum wage has been set.

Study Calls For Microplastic Weighting In Fibre Scoring Tools – This definitely should be done and I am surprised it is already weighted.

Albini Group Collaborates With Oritane For 100% Traceable Cotton Production – And they collaborate with Kering group to show an example of how textile manufacturing can be traceable.

Sustainable News Nr.3 - byLiiL

Other

A Third Of EU Chemical Imports Break REACH Laws, Claims Study – Study conducted by German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment found that many companies fail to inform of risky chemicals found in the products Europeans consume. This again is one of the reasons we need to make sure companies are transparent and we should be able to know what our products contain always!

When It Comes To Smartphone Lifespan, Brand Name Matters More Than Hardware – A study found that Apple phones are more likely to be bought second hand than any other brands of phones. The thing they do not talk about in the article is the price of Apple phones, which is the reason why they are often bought second hand. Nevertheless, it brings up an interesting point of view in the sustainability of mobile phones.

 

With love,

Lii

Sustainable News of the Month – July 2017

Sea Shells For Sale: A New Source Of Sustainable Biomaterials – Discarded molluscs are a big waste that could potentially be turned into a circular economy.

Remote Sensing Technologies Key To The Future Of The Oil Palm Industry – We know that the oil palm industry can be very harmful to our environment and animals, but it is also a very productive crop meaning companies will want to harvest it. This article discusses the possibilities of making it more sustainable.

Sustainable News of the Month - July 2017 - byLiiL

Biodegradable Cleaning Products And Eco-Friendly Plastics From Mushroom Waste – Each week more than 50,000 tonnes of mushroom waste is generated in Europe alone. How great it will be if this can be generated into something else?

Sourcemap, Provenance Harness Supply Chain Mapping, Blockchain Tech to Power Robust Traceability Platform – Traceability for brands and customers.

Meet the Company Refusing to Accept When a Lithium Ion Battery Is ‘Dead’ – Different solutions for Lithium Ion batteries to reduce wastage.

Sustainable News of the Month - July 2017 - byLiiL

Target, Stella McCartney Strike Up New Partnerships to Drive Sustainable Textile Solutions – Research into sustainable cotton production.

British Retailer Tesco To Detoxify Clothing – How Tesco is joining other brands at aiming to remove toxic chemicals from their clothing supply chain.

The Next Step In Sustainable Design: Bringing The Weather Indoors – How nature and weather affect our mood and mental health, and the way design can support it.

 

Have you read any interesting sustainable news lately? Share them in the comment box below!

With love,

Lii