BIODEGRADABILITY – the FACTS and the FICTION by Sonja Wray
If you are starting your CONSCIOUS CONSUMER JOURNEY, here are some of the basic facts on BIODEGRADABILITY that may help you.
- PET (also abbreviated PETE) is short for polyethylene terephthalate, the chemical name for polyester. PET is a clear, strong, and lightweight plastic that is widely used for packaging foods and beverages. Virtually all single-serving and 2-liter bottles of carbonated soft drinks and water sold in the are made from PET. PET can be recycled a number of times before it usually ends up in landfill.
(3-5 TIMES and no colour bottles can be recycled only clear PET bottles)
- Not all plastics are bad. I have my good ‘old faithful’ Tupperware that I have used for over 25 years.
- Single-use plastics are a huge problem for the environment. (Crisp packets, clingfilm, cellophane, etc) I simply put them aside and put into a 2 litre carbonated Coldrink bottle (PET) to make ECO BRICKS, then drop off at my local collection centre. Better than going to landfill as they mostly cannot be recycled. (Chip packets cannot be recycled and eco bricks just delay the packets ending up in landfill. The full effects of gassing caused by the heat breaking own the chemical in the chip packets inside the eco-bricks has yet to be determined so caution must be taken)
- ECO friendly solutions have been found for DRY goods packaging such as CELLO BAGS made from plant and wood cellulose that look and feel like CELLOPHANE PLASTIC. There are now a lot of BIODEGRADABLE choices when going to restaurants or take-aways. Most common are take-away coffee cups, lids, straws and cutlery. These are mostly PLA (Poly-lactic Acid) (recycle triangle no. 7) which are made from plant starches and or sugar polymers. They are much better than PLASTIC products because they contain DO NOT CONTAIN Petro-chemicals that can leach into the environment BUT NOT EASILY composted as often advertised. Very few countries have COMPOSTING FACILITIES for these products and they mostly land up in landfill even though not TOXIC to the environment. They can be INCINERATED to produce ENERGY if those type of Energy Plants are available locally.
HOME COMPOSTING for PLA based products is not really viable as the temperatures needed to ‘biodegrade’ are over 120 degrees Celsius. I personally use PLA products instead of kindling when I braai as they burn well and can then be put in your composter or garden afterwards pure carbon ash.
Watch out for fakes. Genuine PLA utensils have the recycle triangle number 7 on them.
- PLANT STARCH BAGS (usually Corn, Potato or Cassava Starch mixed with plant oils) for dry goods and clothing are now also available in South Africa and many other countries. These are GENUINELY BIODEGRABLE and COMPOSTABLE containing NO FOSSIL FUELS. They are classed as PLA (Poly-Lactic Acid) products and recycle triangle no. 7. They degrade quickly in wet, warm environments. How they behave in cold sea water is still up for more research but in being composed of plant starch may be eaten by smaller sea creatures.
- Wet goods (raw and cooked meats and frozen goods) BIO FILMS are far behind in comparison to dry good films and there are only a tiny number of suppliers in the worldwide market. There needs to be HUGE developments in this sector.
- DEGRADABLE PLASTIC bags (HDPE & LDPE) look and feel like normal plastic bags but have an ENZYME added which break down the plastic due to UV exposure and weathering. The problem with these is that the particles remain PLASTIC and then stay in the environment as tiny particles which are hard to see. I prefer non-degradable Plastic Bags as they can be seen if discarded in the environment and then collected and sent to a recycling plant with other plastic. These bags are often sold as 100% BIODEGRADABLE BAGS and often are NOT.
- POLYSTYRENE can be recycled but is not good in the environment as it breaks up into tiny particles which are very difficult to clean up. There are no recyclers of polystyrene in South Africa as it is economically nonviable as most of its air so therefore you need tons of it to make recycling polystyrene economically viable and sustainable.
BIODEGRADABILITY – the FACTS and the FICTION
HOW DO YOU TELL THE DIFFERENCE between PETRO-CHEMICAL and NON-PETRO-CHEMICAL products?
Easy actually, but best done at home or you may be arrested for causing a fire hazard in your local retailer.
Take a tweezer or pliers to hold the test piece of BAG and burn it. If it drips like MELTING WAX then it contains
PETRO-CHEMICALS. Genuine PLANT STARCH BAGS will burn to ash almost like wood when a flame is added.
The Boiling water test is also available to try. Plastic will not dissolve in boiling water but GENUINE PLANT STARCH bags will.
PLA based products burn differently to plastic. They don’t drip but rather sizzle into an almost chewing gum like consistency. Boiling water turns them soft but because they are a lot more durable than carrier bags but they don’t turn into starchy water.
Paper is always a GREAT OPTION for HOME COMPOSTING from Coffee Cups to Paper Bags – you can’t really go wrong with something that has been in use for thousands of years. (Paper can only be recycled around 7 to 10 times before there are problems with the fibres)
GLASS the best for HOME STORAGE – long term use and very recyclable indefinitely