Biodegradable and Compostable Plastics are not the magic solution to the tide of Plastic Pollution Threatening our oceans
Plastic is unquestionably one of the worlds most versatile materials, you can make anything and everything from it but it at the end of its useful life (which is often only the few minutes it takes us to down a drink) it will remain on the earth for ever unless it is burnt which in turn releases harmful toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. It is a synthetic product, made from chemicals and oil, a finite and depleting resource. We have produced over 88 billion tonnes of it since production really took off in the 1950’s and most of it still exists on the earth – somewhere.
There is widespread concern about the environmental impact of the Plastic we consume at an ever growing rate, then casually discard to be buried in landfill tombs, recycled and sent back to China to be made into more plastic, or thrown down as litter to be washed down our drains and streams out to sea. This concern has seen the rise of a new generation of plastics which suggest that they are compostable or biodegradable and offering us a panacea for being guilty about our love affair with Plastic.
Let’s have a look at the facts. Biodegrable plastics are made from oxo degradable plastics which are plastics with the addition of tiny amounts of metals, like cobalt, iron or manganese. Claims are made that they decay more rapidly in the presence of light, oxygen, heat and moisture so are able to degrade completely in 1-3 years. This is totally dependent on where the plastic ends up. If it gets buried in landfill it probably won’t degrade at all because there is no light or oxygen. Breakdown also depends on temperature and humidity. It slows down in cold weather and high humidity so long wet winters are bad news!
Only this week, 150 organisations, including some of the worlds best brands such as Unilever, issued a call for governments to ban oxo degradable Plastic stating that ‘the available evidence overwhelmingly suggests oxo degradable plastics do not achieve what their producers claim’
Bioplastics or Compostable plastics are made from natural materials such as corn starch. If these products are put in a food waste bin or an industrial composter, given the right conditions they will break down into natural products. However, they are almost impossible to recycle and if either of these plastics end up as litter in the low temperatures of the sea, they do not degrade, just quickly break up into smaller plastic pieces, contaminating our oceans and poisoning marine life.
So there you are folks, buyer beware! Making the ‘right’ choice can be complicated. Confusing jargon hampers public understanding and many manufacturers are guilty of ‘Greenwash’ in the claims they make to sell their products.
Our message is simple, use no straws or paper straws then you know you are not contributing the problem. It’s easy and Cornwall can lead the way.