Biodegradable and Compostable packaging products are increasing in popularity and for years now have been presented as a sustainable solution for eco-efficiency, as it relates to single use food and beverage disposables. However, there are many misconceptions about these materials Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and the Waste Stream Management, omitted by those promoting the products. The use of these products under the misconception of biodegradability and a cure all to environmental impact are called, ‘greenwashing’. If one isn’t actively composting these products in a commercial facility to complete the end of life cycle, more harm than good may be done. Though they do provide benefits as renewable resources there are also negative effects inherent to their life cycle that are often overlooked. Following are some considerations we employed when deciding which products 1567 will support. Simply put, we want to ensure our partners are 1) provided a more complete understanding of the materials cradle-to-grave impacts and 2) are completing the Post Consumer Waste cycle to it’s most impactful point, which is a commercial composting facility.
BioMass (bagasse, wheatstraw etc) products are largely grown and manufactured outside of the U.S.. This means bagasse products are made without benefit to U.S. workers or manufacturing companies, are produced with lower environmental standards and must travel over oceans to arrive in our ports. Many bagasse products also require the use of Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as a lining to provide greater resistance to moisture, oil and grease. Plates, hinged trays, and bowls get weak and soggy without this lining, making more of a mess than stable service vessel for foods. This lining does not degrade naturally and products formerly certified as compostable no longer carry such certification. Finally, many PFAS have been linked to adverse health effects. Some states are now implementing bans of the substance for this reason. Our “EarthChoice” compostable plates do not have such lining and are made here in the U.S.
BioPlastics such as Polylactic Acid (PLA) are the clear plastic biodegradable products you see in cold drink cups, portion cups and hinge lid trays. These products have very low heat thresholds, are not microwavable, and will begin melting when reaching temperatures over 105 degrees Fahrenheit, therefore will not perform as intended. While they carry a #7 recycling symbol, they are in fact not recyclable and are commonly disposed of in recycling bins. This becomes problematic to the recycling processors since they look like plastic products #1, #5 and #6. PLA material is derived from genetically modified corn feedstock, which has it’s own concerns in the realm of organic materials. Corn for BioPlastics is grown on land that could be used to grow food and could be part of the reason for increasing food costs.
Farmed products like bioplastics, including PLA, are believed to have a negative impact on the environment, known as eutrophication. Eutrophication is the increase of concentrations of phosphorus, nitrogen (fertilizers) and other plant nutrients in an aquatic ecosystem. In an aquatic system, eutrophication can cause algae blooms which prevent oxygen from getting into the water to support fish and produces toxins that are harmful to higher forms of life.
The vast majority of compostable and biodegradable products are sent to the landfills as normal trash. When this occurs, these organic wastes do not decompose in the dark, low oxygen conditions which landfills are made to maintain. Instead, these materials degrade over a long period of time, creating methane a greenhouse gas 50+ times more potent than carbon dioxide. As found at Waste360.com, there are currently 185 full scale composting facilities in the U.S. Are you sending your pre or post-consumer food waste and compostable paper products to one of these facilities? earthchoicepackaging.com
We will continue to source reliable U.S. suppliers for biomass and bioplastic material products and bring them to your attention as they become more available. Some of the latest plastics and compostable products being manufactured in the U.S. that are available to order include the Pactiv “EarthChoice” dinnerware and Wincup “Phade” straws. Of course, if you are not actively engaged in composting products, we would encourage the use and practice of recyclable and landfill biodegradable products, through waste management services available in your area.