In this age of pseudo-sustainability, many products have labelling which suggests they are in some way good for the environment, or at least not harmful. And yet, anyone who has tried to make a decision between products based on their sustainability labelling will tell you that is a confusing landscape to navigate – not to mention the fact that a lot of the marketing terms mean zilch when you get down to it. In terms of plastic products, the words 'degradable', 'biodegradable', or even 'landfill degradable' are used, and are usually misleading. Unless they are bioplastics produced from plant sources, these plastics are merely conventional plastics made from fossil fuels with an additive that is supposed to render them biodegradable under specific conditions – or so the manufacturers claim.
What's the difference between bioplastic and plastic with a biodegradable additive?
Plastic products have lots of different, confusing marketing labels - what is the difference between them and bioplastics? We have no independently verified and conclusive scientific proof that this plastic will biodegrade. Plastic may break down into smaller and smaller pieces – termed microplastics – that persist in the environment, usually to be ingested by animals and make their way up the food chain. Research shows that humans may consume up to a credit card's worth in microplastics through our diet. Continuing to use this kind of plastic also does not address the problem of using fossil fuels for single-use packaging and does not solve littering. Labelling this plastic as 'biodegradable' gives consumers and producers a false sense of sustainability, and is termed 'greenwashing'. See our article here for more myths about plastic and bioplastic.
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says
The United Nations Environmental Program produces resources surrounding environmental sustainability.
- "The inclusion of a pro-oxidant, such as manganese, in oxo-degradable polymers is claimed to promote fragmentation (biodegradation) by UV irradiation and oxygen. The fate of these fragments (microplastics) is unclear, but it should be assumed that oxo-degradable polymers will add to the quantity of microplastics in the oceans, until overwhelming independent evidence suggests otherwise …"
- "Oxo-degradable polymers do not fragment rapidly in the marine environment (i.e. persist > 2-5 years) and so manufactured items will continue to cause littering problems and lead to undesirable impacts …"
Recyclers are also having problems when these products end up in the recycling streams. The North American Recycling Industry says, about the use of these degradable additives used in bottles, forms, films:
Read more about the North America Recycling Industry here. Information taken from BioPak's website. Read more about the different marketing terms or the difference between home and commercial composting on our blog. Article by Tallis Baker. Planet Friendly Packaging acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which we work.
- "Degradable additives that weaken products or shorten the useful life of durable plastics have a strongly negative impact of postconsumer recycling."
- "APR asks those who advocate and specific degradable additives to consider the sustainability implications of degradable additives that lower the functionality of recycled postconsumer plastics when included with recyclable plastics."