Marine Science in the News: Bioplastics Part 4

Our fourth and final piece for our Bioplastics blog series reviews the best options for purchasing bioplastic products and discusses where the bioplastics industry is going.

When consumers hear “biodegradable” they think that the product is going to disappear no matter what, when in reality that doesn’t happen. Landfills are built to store waste and prevent air, moisture and sunlight exposure, which means that the process needed for biodegradation can never actually happen. So what is the best option for purchasing products when you are trying to reduce your trash impact on the world?

When looking at bioplastics or biodegradable products, be sure to purchase those which are compostable. Biodegradable items are not regulated, but compostable items meet industry standards that are government-approved. The standard for compostability is based on complete biodegradation within 180 days under active composting conditions in industrial and composting operations.

How do you know if a product is compostable? Check for a symbol containing “BPI” similar to that on the right. The scientists at the Biodegradable Plastics Industry (BPI) test products and verify that they meet requirements and specifications for composting.

Don’t have access to a composting system? Then be sure to place biodegradable products in the green bin, not the trash or recycling bin. Biodegradable plastic and recycled plastic don’t mix due to different chemical compositions and mixing could possibly contaminate traditional plastic recycling. If you do not have a green bin then add the biodegradable products to your trash bin.

While not all bioplastics are compostable (most aren’t), they still have certain benefits. Biobased plastics use renewable materials alone, or some use fossil fuels as well but in smaller amounts.

What is the future of bioplastics? The bioplastics industry is growing as our awareness of the harm of petroleum-derived plastics increases. So the question is: are bioplastics better? That’s the subject of much discussion, research, development and debate. Currently there are a number of different compostable plastic resins available in the market and the number is growing every day.

The industry is exploring labeling the next generation of greener products as oxo-biodegradable, hydro-biodegradable, photo-biodegradable or water soluble. These labels pertain to the chemical process by which the material breaks down. What a way to confuse us even more when we’re trying to purchase what we need while keeping the planet’s health in mind!

Ultimately, the answer to reducing our waste impact is less about plastic versus bioplastic and more about getting back to the basics: reduce, reuse, recycle and divert to compost if possible.

Want to know more? Check out the U.S. Composting Council’s Compostable Plastic Toolkit for definitions, guidelines, policies and legislation, and education and outreach materials.

To learn about BPI and their methods for regulation on compost click here.

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