The bollocks of bioplastics and what “compostable” really means!

On a previous episode of Channel 4’s Food Unwrapped a few months ago, the presenters talked about plastic consumption and more specifically about so-called “compostable” plastic. This type of packaging is set to become more and more common as supermarkets attempt to tackle consumer demand for more eco friendly packaging. This is great news… isn’t it?

To the normal, every day consumer if you saw the word compostable on the back of a label, like me you would more than likely assume it was compostable in your home compost bin. Unfortunately you’d be wrong! Sadly SOME of these products are only compostable on an industrial level which means that only specific recycling plants are able to compost these types of items.

An example of this type of “compostable” material is plant based plastics such as corn starch. The sad truth is that less than 50% of recycling plants actually offer this type of industrial composting facility.

So what happens to the packaging if it can’t be industrially composted?

Compostable plastic CANNOT be recycled, and not only that it could potentially contaminate other recyclable plastics therefore it has to be put in general waste. Not only can it not be recycled but it will NOT BIODEGRADE under normal circumstances, therefore it puts it in a similar category to single use plastics. This also means that this ‘compostable’ packaging won’t biodegrade in your home compost bin either and so it shouldn’t be put in there!

But do the companies tell you this fact?

Probably not! I can tell you that I haven’t ever seen it mentioned on the packaging of certain items I’ve bought recently. A corn starch toothbrush from Jack N Jill for example.

I gave them the benefit of the doubt despite the toothbrush bristles being made or nylon as the toothbrush itself was made of corn starch plastic. The packaging was also made of paper with a corn starch blister packing. This product said compostable and when I contacted the company they told me it could go in my home compost bin but would take “considerably longer to degrade.”

We are now at a point where the toothbrush needs replacing so I’m gonna test there theory and let you know how I get on.

So how do we know if we can compost the packaging at home?

There are two logos to be aware of, the compostable logo (which means industrially compostable) and the home compostable logo (yes, go on and whack it in your home compost bin)

Home compostable

This is the logo you need to look out for if you want to be able to compost your packaging at home.

Industrially compostable

If you are lucky enough to have one of these elusive industrial composting facilities in your county then this is the logo you need to look out for. Be sure to contact your local council to find out what you need to do with this type of packaging.

Here are a few questionable products I’ve found so far…

Cheeky Panda toilet paper

Unbeknownst to me I had been buying The Cheeky Panda paper because it’s a great B Corp company. The only problem being the outer packaging was made of oxo plastic. This packaging cannot be recycled in your normal recycling because the plastic is oxo degradable.

What on Earth is an oxo degradable plastic?

Here is a cute little video from Oxo plastic giants Symphony Environmental to explain how this process ‘works.’

The European Parliament are so concerned about its eco credentials that they are even putting a ban in place to reduce the use of this type of plastic being used.

Thankfully it seems as though Cheeky Panda have substituted their D2W oxo degradable toilet paper packaging for alternative paper packaging! Phew!

Degradable and biodegradable bin liners

In theory all plastic bags are degradable, degradable just means they break down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic! This DOES NOT make them eco friendly! Green washing at its best!

Just like these “degradable” bin liners from Ethical Superstore.

On the same lines as above I’ve also found degradable dog poo bags. Specifically these below from Beco pets.

These bags are being marketed as green but are made using D2W which is the oxo plastic as mentioned above.

Here is an example of a product which can actually degrade in a manner that is safe for the environment.

Home compostable caddy liners from Ethical Superstore

If you want to find out more about composting and these so-called ‘green’ plastic alternatives then there are some useful links at the bottom of this post.

If you are unsure about the packaging on any products you are interested in purchasing or already have at home then why not get in touch with the company via social media. Or feel free to contact me and I’ll do my best to find out 😊

Don’t forget to check out the logo on your packaging and if you are unsure, don’t buy it.

If you have any great home compostable products or want to name and shame a company who is guilty of greenwashing, please do let me know in the comments or you can find me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Don’t forgot to follow my blog for more zero waste inspiration and eco product reviews.

Come and join my army of eco warriors on the Thrifty Green Life Facebook group. I would love to see you there 😊

Nikki

Useful links:

https://docs.european-bioplastics.org/2016/publications/fs/EUBP_fs_industrial_composting.pdf

https://www.european-bioplastics.org/bioplastics/standards/oxo-degradables/

https://www.newplasticseconomy.org

https://publications.europa.eu/en/publication-detail/-/publication/bb3ec82e-9a9f-11e6-9bca-01aa75ed71a1

https://docs.european-bioplastics.org/2016/publications/bp/EUBP_bp_additive-mediated_plastics.pdf

https://docs.european-bioplastics.org/2016/publications/EUBP_QA_enzyme-mediated_degradable_plastics.pdf

https://www.ows.be/news/oxo-degradable-plastics-do-they-biodegrade-in-search-of-a-definite-answer/

https://myplasticfreelife.com/2008/01/bittersweet-symphony-called-d2w/

http://lawprintpack.co.uk/news/curious-case-compostable-packaging/

https://www.european-bioplastics.org/eu-takes-action-against-oxo-degradable-plastics/

3 Replies to “The bollocks of bioplastics and what “compostable” really means!”

  1. This was super useful! I got some oxo biodegradable plastic recently and had no idea what to do with it! But those bin bags really do degrade… we used them to store stuff in the loft and wondered why everything in the loft was suddenly out in the open (the bags had degraded!). But yes it’s super confusing and here there’s nowhere to compost any of these items apart from your back garden! Thanks for the diagrams though that’s super useful

    The Quirky Environmentalist

    Like

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