The news has been full of reports about how single-use products and plastics are polluting the environment and damaging wildlife. The word ‘single-use’ was even crowned ‘Word of the Year 2018’ by Collins Dictionary and the government are up against it to come up with legislation to minimise the damage these materials are causing. There are lots of new products being introduced to the market and several that have been around for years that are referred to as “biodegradable” and “compostable”. Individuals and companies are looking for alternatives in a bid to become more sustainable, but are these materials everything the name suggests?
Conventional plastic is a fossil-based plastic made from a range of polymers derived from petrochemicals. Bio-based plastic is made from plant-based sources and these bio-based polymers can be used to make plastic packaging that behaves like conventional plastic and as such, long lived and durable.
The composition of material used to make, or the term used to describe a plastic does not mean that’s the way it will behave at the end of its life e.g. the use of the word bio doesn’t mean that its biodegradable.
The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) defines that all plastics, bio-based or fossil-based can be designed to behave in three ways:
So, how suitable are each of these plastics for recycling?
To summarise this, most plastics described as biodegradable or compostable must be collected separately from any other waste stream and sent to a purpose-designed facility where they can be broken down successfully, it does not mean that it will break down if simply discarded under a hedge or by the side of the road.
Using plastic bottles as an example, an article on PackagingNews tell us that there is good collection and recycling infrastructure for non-biodegradable PET bottles, such as soft drink bottles, but if these bottles were made from biodegradable plastic, they would need specialist, collection, processing and treatment. This would mean that a lot of education around this material for people to understand would be needed to ensure that it’s separated correctly.
If you’re looking for an alternative to single-use conventional plastic packaging, just remember to check your local collection facilities and infrastructure to make sure that the waste will be processed in the correct manner. If you would like to speak to a waste expert for advice on what your business could be doing or how we can help it become a greener enterprise, contact us on any of the methods below.
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