Earth Matters by Jacqueline Milner: Are Biodegradable and Compostable good choices? – Summerstown Ontario – April 5, 2010

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 ( 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.

Green Living Tips:

Green Calgary

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.

Your commentary is welcome and appreciated.  What information would you like covered in upcoming columns?


  1. Calgary should use the methane gas to fire a generator to produce electricity instead of just complaining about it. Biomass fuels are the leading edge of environentally friendly electricity prodution.

  2. Reg, Is there a Canadian city that you know of that uses the methane gas from their land fill site to fire a generator to produce electricty?

  3. Eco-chick,I think one of Ottawa’s dumps converts methane to electricity. You could do a google search I imagine.

    I am all for reduce reuse recycle, but will not go overboard. This green energy is going to be increasing our electricty costs alot. They will be going up in January I understand.

    What are these biodegradeable bags really made of? Will there be some long term effect if I use that soil for my tomato plants, and then my ingestion of them?

  4. I was at a meeting for one of Cornwall’s green teams a few years back. One of the members of the city told me the cogen station is piped in to the dump along number 2 highway. However I am inclined not to believe him. I travel that road regularly and the aroma emitted is living proof things are not as they are explained. Oh you can’t use rotting garbage, rot is one thing but decomposition is another. I have been around petrochemical enough to know what the difference is.

    This environmental stuff is getting out of hand. Would I recycle more, yes, most definitely but government must encourage industry to do the same.

    Someone mentioned plastic bags. Shopping bags are one of the worst. Now stores like Food Basics charge us for the bags. A question arises, how you can charge the public $0.05 for something that is already included in your operating budget. Misleading the public comes to mind.
    Home Depot does the same but by donations only and that money is used for building homes for the needy. What happens to the revenue gained before it is spent, does it add to a capital budget as a prediction of income? What about these new bags made from 100% recycled products, can they be recycled when their time comes?? Nope not at all

    P&G has or had a commercial where in a new product reduces the amount of trucks on the road due to better products in smaller boxes. This is a great step ahead, but what did the new product replace or did it just add another product line of deliverables.

    How many different sizes of the same product do we have in stores, take soda pop, I can recall a 6Oz bottle primarily used in bars, 10Oz bottle sole in vending machines and corner stores and the 26Oz for weekend hoo dingers. Look at the sizes we now have from mini cans and stubby bottles to mega size. Who is at fault for those choices the public? Also why are bottling companies not made to pick up the empties of everything they produce and cover recycling costs? If we do not hold them accountable they will not change

    People cannot be the sole solution to environmental issues. These business practices and others similar are what needs to be halted before there can be any form of better controls or reform on the environment.

    Garbage can be dealt with much better. Europe has been using practices like gasification for years. It is a cleaner way to deal with garbage and it also yields energy production as well as a byproduct which can be used in construction and gasses needed in other manufacturing processes. Tt is not purity but it is a hell of a lot better then current practices. The reason it is not so popular in Canada is politics and ignorance.

  5. s’mee I hope you take some of the energy from a post like that and get more involved politically if you’re not already. People need to be more involved whether at the Municipal, Provincial, or Federal level.

    If you don’t like something work to change it is my motto; or at least one of my motto’s.

  6. I have tried Jamie, and it is always met with the infamous brick wall. Locally it is due to people serving personal interests but mostly due to ignorence and a closed mind. On a more national scale it has become apparent that Canada is e caught in the center of the globalization of poverty.

    Government does not want to change and due to many ruling entities, be it IMF, WTO, the World Bank. Change is not possible if it effects the rich. Even the aforementioned entities are ruled by yet even higher entities ICC,(International Chamber of Commerce) TABD ( Trans Atlantic business Dialogue) or IIF(Institute if International Finance). It is quite difficult to fight these people. It even covers the old boys club of Trilateral Commission Bilderbergs and Council of foreign relations..

    If they want pollution no matter who cries fowl we will have it

  7. Biodegradable plastic and packaging is a modern necessity for our ever-endangered environment.
    Now PLA has been used to line the indoors of Paper Cups in place of the oil based lining additional usually used, create Plastic Cups, Plates, Carrier Bags, Food Packaging and even Nappies.
    Eco Pure is our proprietary blend of organic materials that does not modify the base resin to which it is added.

    Thanks a lot for your information

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