Are Biodegradable and Compostable good choices?
Three different plastic bags came across my desk in the past week. One was the plastic packaging on daffodils from the Canadian Cancer Society, labeled 100% degradable, one was a plain plastic bag labeled oxo-biodegradable from a natural soap artisan in Quebec and the last was the 4 litres outer bag packaging for Natrel Milk labeled oxo-biodegradable. So I did a little digging around to find out, what is the difference between these products and why would I choose one over the other.
According to Ashley Lubyk, BSc. In Environmental Science of Clean Calgary Association; “Simply put, ‘compostable’ plastics are made from farmed products like cornstarch and are broken down by microorganisms. ‘Degradable’ and ‘oxo-biodegradable’ plastics are made from fossil fuels and additives, breaking down when exposed to heat, moisture and/or ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Because each of these bags has unique qualities, they must be differentiated before deciding whether they should be placed in the garbage, compost or recycling bin.”
I then visited the Natrel (http://www.natrel.ca/english/faq/Oxobiodegradableeng.html) site to find out about their new Oxo-biodegradable bag. I was very surprised to learn that they were announcing the discontinuation of this ‘towards a better world’ packaging concept. You can visit the Natrel site to read their explanation on why they have made this decision. They have found that some recycling plants will not take oxo-biodegradables with the other plastic recyclables. Because oxo-biodegradables are fossil fuel-based plastics which have been made with additives so that they degrade faster I suspect that these additives could have a detrimental effect on the recycled products made from recycled plastics which include oxo-biodegradables.
It seems that more and more businesses are working towards greening up their operations in the face of increasing demand of an earth conscious public. So how do these new products stack up and what do we do with these degradable bags once we have unloaded our purchases?
After much reading I have come to the following conclusion. As far as plastic bags are concerned the best solution is not to use one PERIOD regardless of labeling. Second choice is a compostable product which according to Ms. Lubyk is “capable of undergoing biological decomposition in a compost site…, such that the plastic is not visually distinguishable and breaks down to carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass…, [leaving] no toxic residue. Compostable bags do not undergo this ideal transformation when placed in a landfill, because modern-day landfills are largely void of oxygen. When compostable items, including grass clippings, leaves, fruit and vegetables, coffee grinds, newspapers, etc. enter a landfill, methane gas is created. This is problematic because methane – a greenhouse gas – is 20 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. In 2003 alone, as a result of compostable materials, Calgary’s landfills emitted as much greenhouse gases as nearly 75,000 sport utility vehicles (SUVs) driving for an entire year. Methane release from landfills will only increase if consumers start adding compostable plastic bags to their garbage.”
(Oh my goodness I have 7 big bins of clippings that I was going to put out for garbage pick-up…I am going to have to rethink that now)
For more information about the ramifications of using degradable, biodegradable, oxo-degradable and compostable bags please visit these informative links.
Can you believe this unseasonable wonderful weather we have been having? It is wonderful to watch the flurry of activity in my own background. The swallows returned yesterday which tells me the warm weather is here to stay. Do take a moment to enjoy Spring as it unfolds. The buds on the trees can barely contain themselves. Keep your eyes open…before you know it the leaves will be dancing and singing in the wind.
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