California debates the Use of the Biodegradable Claim

Posted on December 30, 2011 by DrRossH in Plastic Limiting Regulations

A sad case of bureaucrats getting involved in a technology they do not understand.

This article refers to landfill-biodegradable plastic bottles, yet cites the problems that a different technology ‘oxo-degradable’ plastics have and then further confuses with problems that ‘compostable’ plastics have.  There are three different technologies for plastic degradation that work by very different processes,  The last two methods above have significant limitations as this article refers to.  Landfill-biodegradation has none of these limitations yet this suit is trying to mix them all together which is bad engineering.

As for bioplastics, this is one of the most intentionally made confusing issues put out by industry.  With plastic, you have the manufacture side and the disposal side.   Bioplastics help the manufacturers out on the manufacturing side with lower costs or alternate materials in case oil gets too high or scarce.   Very few bioplastics do anything on the disposal side.   They are not biodegradable in a landfill as many would have you believe.  Some are not biodegradable at all as they are actually PET just like you would make a PET bottle from oil, others are compostable.  Given there are very few compost facilities around and no separate collection of compostable plastics, then composting is not a viable option for plastics at the current time.  Understand about 90% of plastics go to a landfill, where they will last for many many 100s of years.  Bioplastics does not equate to biodegradable, although industry likes to smear these two terms together.  They are completely separate issues. 

Using an additive like ENSO supplies is the only way to break these bottles down into harmless humus.   These landfill-biodegradable additives do NOT affect mainstream recycling either, actually it is encouraged.  Bottles with this landfill-biodegradable additive in them, can be sent to a recycling centre and recycled just like any other bottle.  The recycle centre would not even know the additive was in there and it has no effect on the new products made, other than they too could be landfill biodegradable when they are disposed of in the future.   While recycling is important and should be the first option with plastic waste, remember all most all plastic ends up in a landfill as it can only be recycled so many times before the molecular structure changes so much that it no longer can be used to make new plastic products.   Wouldn’t we like for that retired plastic to then biodegrade away and be gone?   Landfill-biodegradable additives are a backstop measure for all plastic.  If the plastic is recycled that is good, if it ends up in a landfill at some point it will biodegrade away.  Either way the plastic waste is gone which is what we want.

Hopefully the defendants will be able to educate the State to clear this up.