Compostable plastic being Green Washed Again

Posted on January 17, 2012 by DrRossH in Plastic Waste News

In response to a news release on BPI announcing that the NSF was going to verify compostable claims and how much credence this valuable certification would add to the compostable plastic industry.  Lets have a closer look.

Compostable plastics are not worth too much to a consumer for a number of reasons.

1) There are very few compost facilities around to take the compostable plastic.

2) Over 90% of our plastic goes to landfills at the moment

3) Compostable plastics do not biodegrade in a landfill

4) Compostable plastics require highish temps over 60 deg C, oxygen and humidify to work.  Without those they will not biodegrade

5)Consumers can’t tell what is compostable and what is not.  It has a #7 on it which is ‘Other plastics’, so it is not differentiated & goes out with all other trash

6) There is no curb side pick up for compostable plastics so what is a consumer going to do with his compostable plastic bag or spoon?  (Other than throw it in the trash to go to a landfill).

7) Consumers are not going to drive across town to drop off a few compostable forks and knives even if they did have a compost facility within driving distance.  They are going to put them in the trash.

8) Those composting facilities that are around are now turning away compostable plastics like PLA as they do not break down and clog up their machines instead.  Same with compostable plastic bags.

So where is the advantage of compostable plastics?

What BPI is doing is telling everyone what a great thing compostable plastics are and adding this independent verification to the compostable claim makes it very reputable –  It must be good.   It is nice to have a verifiable claim, but if no one is using the compostable process, the verification has no meaning.  I could make a house out of cardboard and get it certified that it was good quality cardboard used, but that doesn’t mean it is a good house.    In reality compostable plastics are not doing anything to alleviate plastic waste at the moment.   While there is no doubt compostable plastics can biodegrade under a specific set of conditions, this is a lot of green washing for the consumers.

Brook’s comment about magical additives that transform a plastic to be biodegradable is biased as it is not based on scientific data.   There are biodegradable additives that are letting plastics 30-50% biodegrade in a landfill in 150 days.   No compostable product can do that.  A real hard look at the compostable plastics needs to be taken by the FTC as compostable plastics are not bringing the promise of biodegrading plastics.  Instead they are duping consumers into preferentially buying these products well knowing the products will not biodegrade away.  It is another selling gimmick that the compostable plastic industry is perpetrating, but the failure of their promotions has serious environmental concerns.

If manufacturers of compostable plastic want to have any worth while input into this plastic waste issue, they need to organize themselves and do the follow at least;

1)      Get compostable plastics stamped with a new number, #0 was tried before I believe but it did not catch on.

2)      Make available plenty of drop off centres for consumers to recycle their spent products to

3)      Arrange for curb side pickup of just compostable plastics or work with current recycle centres to pick up the compostable plastic they have sorted out using the ID number above.

4)      Prove to compost facilities that their materials do actually compost as at the moment some centres are rejecting compostable plastics as they do not biodegrade and clog up the process.

5)      Set up and operate frequent commercial composting facilities.

Unless the compostable plastics  industry makes an effort to implement the above and allow their products to do as they claim, then their products should be restricted from being labelled with any biodegradable claim