Do bioplastics solve the problems caused by the production, use, and disposal of plastic?
Are all the so-called bioplastics biodegradable? No, not all so-called “biobased” plastics are compostable and biodegradable.
According to the European Bioplastics, “Biodegradation is a chemical process during which microorganisms that are available in the environment convert materials into natural substances such as water, carbon dioxide, and compost (artificial additives are not needed).”
As we saw in the previous article, different types of materials made from a wide range of compositions are considered bioplastics, including “mixtures of biopolymers, petrochemical-derived plastic, and fibers” (Study of Biodegradable Polylactide/Poly(butylene adipate-co-terephthalate) Blends, 2006).
So bioplastics or biopolymers, to use more appropriate terminology, may or may not be biodegradable and compostable. Because the term is also commonly used to refer to plastics manufactured from non-renewable sources, such as oil, as well as plastic, as we discussed in the title above.
The material used in plant-based PET is indistinguishable from its petrochemical equivalent. Plant-based PET, like petrochemical PET, will not decompose, but it can be recycled with conventional PET. Plant-derived PET thus has the same environmental impact as conventional plastic. (Study of Biodegradable Polylactide/Poly(butylene adipate-co-terephthalate) Blends, 2006).
Also, not even the bioplastic made 100% from plants carries the guarantee of being biodegradable.
“PLA is not suitable for home composting; biodegradation requires an industrial composting process that uses high temperatures (>58 ̊C) and 50 percent relative humidity (most home composters operate at <60 ̊C and only rarely reach temperatures greater than this)” (Study of Biodegradable Polylactide/Poly (butylene adipate-co-terephthalate) Blends, 2006).
For you to understand more about how this process works, check the following video. It explains a bit more about the process of creating, composting, and recycling bioplastics.
What brands can do to turn the information and advertising of bioplastics more transparent?
How can the consumer know if a material sold as a bioplastic is compostable?
In the European Bioplastic guideline, it is possible to find some of the leading international instruments for the regulation of environmental claims that can be applied to the promotion and commercialization of bioplastics so that consumers can be better informed about it.
European Bioplastic also suggests general and specific guidelines on advertising and promotion of bioplastic products. Check it out below:
General guidelines by European Bioplastics
• Ensure that environmental claims are specific, accurate, relevant, and truthful.
• Omit vague, general claims that do not fulfill these criteria, such as “green”, “sustainable”, “environmentally friendly”, “climate-friendly” and the like.
• Substantiate claims – with methods and data corresponding to international standards and ideally provided and/or verified by independent third parties.
• Make the data available to all interested parties.
• Update substantiation and claims as required.
Recommendations regarding bioplastics by European Biplástics
• “Bio-based claims” should be backed up by sound measurements based on approved standards (e.g., EN, ISO, or ASTM norms) and ideally third-party certification. They can be made by indicating either the bio-based mass content or the bio-based carbon content as a percentage of the total carbon content of the material balance of a material/product**
• Claiming that a product is biodegradable without any further specification is classed as vague. The applied testing standard must be specified, and information about the test environment and timeframe must be provided.
• If industrial compostability is claimed for a product, certification (by an independent third-party), according to EN 13432 or equivalent standards, should be acquired.
• A claim regarding a specific end-of-life option can only be made if the corresponding facilities can be accessed by a “reasonable proportion of consumers” (European Commission). End-of-life claims shall comply with the essential requirements of the relevant European legal frameworks; for packaging, the EU Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste is of particular relevance. In addition to the European legal framework, producers should check specific national waste legislation or agreements in place for bioplastics.
Although the carbon footprint of a bio-based material (cradle to gate) can be neutral or even negative (compared to fossil-based elements), this is rarely the case for a bio-based consumer product (full life cycle – cradle to grave). It is, therefore, better to claim a “reduced carbon footprint”.
Thus, it is essential to note that not all bioplastics derived from biomass are biodegradable, and plastics are derived from petroleum that can become biodegradable under certain conditions. We know that this seems like a contradiction, and that is precisely why it is so important to research the composition, uses, and treatments of these materials before consuming them.
What else can you do?
As a brand, you must be as transparent as possible with your consumer. In this sense, European Bioplastic Guideline brings a series of tips that we mentioned above.
As a consumer, you should seek more information and transparency from brands. Read the packaging labels and find out the exact composition of the bioplastics you are buying. If it is 100% plant-based packaging: polylactic acid (PLA) (biomass), polybutylene adipate terephthalate (PBAT) (derived from petroleum), drop-in bioplastics, (hybrid plastic bioplastic) or polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) (derived from bacteria).
Another tip is to find out what the companies and suppliers’ policy is concerning the collection and disposal of the packaging being supplied by them.
As we have seen, researches have demonstrated that bioplastics, even those made 100% with biomass (plant-based), will not decompose if sent to the conventional landfill. Bioplastics need specific circumstances only found in industrial composting (high temperatures (> 58 ̊C) and 50 percent relative humidity).
Therefore, it is useless for consumers to choose to buy bioplastics if they do not have the proper destination.
The same goes for recycling packaging made from other types of plastic and glass. To be recycled, they need to be recovered and deposited in the appropriate containers and correctly sent to recycling screens.
When working with specific and innovative raw materials, suppliers must ensure the collection and destination. This is the case, for example, of Pearl, supplied by Hello-Bottle.
QUOTE: Pearl is a new lifestyle brand committed to delivering healthy and eco-friendly packaging to everyday household products.
We rethought current glassware products to create Pearl, innovative glass jars that offer clear functional advantages for costumers concerned with maintaining a healthier and sustainable lifestyle.
We have selected materials that we consider perfect for keeping your products as original as possible, with low migration from the packaging to the product. Low migration materials, such as glass and stainless steel, are a crucial base of Pearl products.
One of our core values is delivering multi-use designs that encourage a long-lasting and multi-purpose life cycle. Our authentic versatile design allows you to buy fewer products to take advantage of the collection you have for longer.
Committed to the quality and durability of our products, we choose to build our Pearl jars from individual pieces that can be cleaned individually, not being glued together.
Pearl’s sealing gaskets are made with a special TPE material that has been used for many years among returnable glass bottles and is approved by the FDA, fulfilling all current food and safety norms.
We chose TPE because it offers proper cleaning capabilities and low migration, essential to allow gaskets refilling and reuse.
Our glass, stainless steel, and unique TPE ring of Pearl components are each 100% recyclable.
Pearl jars allow us to do the TPE sealing gasket recycling for you!
While glass and stainless-steel recycling are usually globally available with no issues, we understand that TPE recycling may not yet be widely available.
That’s why we offer the consumer the choice to return TPE rings directly to us, allowing us to do the recycling for you!
Was this article interesting? Write in the comments your experience with returnable packaging or made from bioplastics. Please contact us to request Pearl samples for resale at your eco-friendly online store.
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