Earlier this week, the University of Plymouth published research that questioned how good for the environment compostable, biodegradable or oxo-degradable bags are for the environment. It caused some confusion, with some members of the public not understanding the difference between the three, writes Daphna Nissenbaum, CEO of compostable bag company TIPA.
Since publication, the University of Plymouth has clarified that compostable labelled bags do perform differently to those marked biodegradable or oxo-degradable when it comes to decomposition in water and soil, and overall impact on the environment.
It is vital to make the distinction between biodegradable, oxo-degradable and compostable, as they mean very different things with different implications for their respective end of life scenarios.
As the research makes clear, ‘biodegradable’ is a term that has no official definition or requirements, often misleading brands, retailers and consumers. Meanwhile, oxo-degradable have been outlawed by the EU commission, due to their contribution to the micro-plastics problem.
On the other hand, the term compostable means products are capable of complete biodegradation in compost and must meet specific standards for breakdown to receive a compostability certification.
As the research found, biodegradable products were discovered to persist in the environment with minimal degradation of quality after 3 years, while compostable products broke down (or completely disappeared) much quicker, even when not placed in the ideal composting conditions.
As the packaging industry is going through a period of radical transformation and transition to ‘sustainable’ packaging materials, accuracy regarding the issue of degradation is more vital than ever. This research is an important opportunity to differentiate between compostables, which live up to their end of life claim, and biodegradable, which can be seen as misleading.
In any case, innovators in the industry alongside TIPA, strongly believe that no material should wind up in marine water, litter open fields nor end up in a landfill.
Compostable packaging is certified to decompose within a few months in a home or industrial facility. Governments should collaborate with businesses on achieving a circular economy for plastic packaging, and ensuring the right infrastructure methods in place for each plastic packaging stream. This is the only way in which we can achieve the Global ambitious goal of all plastic packaging being reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.