Recyclable, Compostable, Biodegradable and What Do They Even Mean?
Recyclable, Compostable and Biodegradable are the current "buzz" words when it comes to recycling and with consumers more interested than ever in looking after the planet, these terms are now used on almost all packaging, but what doe they even mean and what are the benefits to our planet?
Recycling, converts used materials into something new and is an effective way of keeping waste out of landfill for longer. Some materials such as plastics, glass, metal, and aluminium can be recycled almost endlessly.
Recycling has now become second nature, we all now have separate bins to put separate material into however, a study by Ecover found that 37% of us don’t always know if a product’s packaging can be recycled.
Unfortunately labelling isn't always clear and often consumers put materials that cannot ben recycled into the recycling bin, thinking it's better than sending it to landfill, when actually this just leads to contamination of the recycling waste which means that none of the items can be recycled.
If you are confused by the labelling on your packaging it's best to check your local council website that will explain what you can and cannot put in your recycling bin in your area. If your still not sure Recycle Now is a great website to check labelling.
Garden waste such as leaves, grass clippings and fruit/veg make great compost, but did you know the term can also apply to anything made from organic matter which breaks down in under 12 weeks and enhances soil quality.
More and more items are being labelled as "compostable" such as coffee cups which have been lined with PLA (a bioplastic made from corn starch) however, you cannot put them onto your compost pile at home! Talk about confusing?!
The PLA in these items needs an “industrial composting” facility, of which there are a few in the UK. Food packaging labelled as compostable is not usually suitable for home composting. In fact, there is no accepted UK standard for such material for home composting, and even more frustratingly councils will not accept these materials with garden or food waste, so it is always important to check first.
So, even when an item is labelled as compostable, it is currently very unlikely you will be able to do anything other than throw it in the bin.
Being biodegradable is similar to being compostable as it means the item can be broken down into smaller pieces by bacteria, fungi or microbes (things naturally occurring in the ground). However, unlike compostable, (where the item would take 12 weeks to breakdown) there is no time limit on how long biodegradable items take to breakdown. It can take weeks or even thousands of years to break down and still be regarded as biodegradable. Unfortunately, unlike compost, it doesn’t always leave behind enhancing qualities but may damage the environment with harmful oils and gases as it degrades.
Plastic bags and packaging are now being labelled as biodegradable but may still take decades to fully break down while releasing harmful CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.
So what's best for our planet? Currently materials that are easily recycled and which can be recycled again and again such as plastics, glass, metal, and aluminium are better, in our opinion, over materials that are labelled as compostable or biodegradable but as technology advances and new facilities are invested in, this may change in the future.