Biodegradable and Compostable Plastics
Are Plant-based Plastics Biodegradable?
According to the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) biodegradables are anything that undergoes degradation resulting from the action of naturally occurring micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi, and algae. Although quickly is not defined, biodegradable products are broken in way less time than non-biodegradable products such as traditional plastic.
Instead of lasting for hundreds of years, biodegradable plastics are meant to deteriorate quickly to avoid ending up in one of our many landfills. Some biodegradable plastics are also compostable, meaning they can be turned into compost and used to benefit your garden or the soil around us. Composted materials serve a greater benefit to the environment than biodegradable materials.
Technically, many materials are biodegradable over a large amount of time but will still leave wastes unbeneficial to our environment.
This is what you usually think when you see these terms on products and you feel good using them knowing they are meant to help solve a problem. Unfortunately, the biodegradable and compostable story is built on an ideal situation for these products. In reality, these materials need to be sent to the right places to properly decompose and those same places are rarely convenient for most consumers to take advantage of.
These places are known as industrial or commercial composting facilities and they aren’t as common or accessible in the United States as we’d like them to be. It’s common to have to send your biodegradable waste hundreds of miles to get to the nearest composting facility and it would cost consumers inaccessible amounts of money to follow through with the entire process.
Until biodegradable and compostable plastics can be easily sent to these facilities at a low cost, this and a few other obstacles make biodegradable plastic products almost a wasted effort in the name of companies greenwashing.