Plastic was the name given to early synthetic products such as cellophane, that were derived from cellulose. These plastics were biodegradable. Then they learnt how to make similar products from oil. Or rather from the bits of crude left over after they had finished making petrol. The same name was then given the oil derived product. But there were crucial differences. This new product was made in a very different way and did NOT biodegrade.Since then yet more “plastics” have hit the market. Made from all kinds of things. Some from plant starch and some are certified compostable.
Currently, non- biodegradable, oil derived plastics are the most commonly used and so we tend to ascribe their qualities to all types of plastic.
In fact plastics can be made in a variety of ways from a variety of materials; shale gas, oil, plants even chicken feathers;
And different plastics have very different qualities. Some plastics do biodegrade and are certified compostable
Want to know more about plastic? Read up here
Biodegradable, Compostable Plastics
Just to remind you:
What is biodegradable? Biodegradable products break down through a naturally occurring microorganism into simple, stable compounds which can be absorbed into the ecosystem. More about biodegrading here
What is compostable? To be classed compostable, items must biodegrade within a certain time (around the rate at which paper biodegrades), and the resulting biomass must be free of toxins, able to sustain plant life and be used as an organic fertilizer or soil additive.
For a man-made product to be sold as compostable, it has to meet certain standards. One such is the European Norm EN13432.
You can find out more here.
Home Or Industrial Compostable?
Composting is usually done on a small scale and most people will be familiar with the concept of a backyard heap or garden compost where household waste is rotted down into garden mulch.
However large-scale schemes are becoming increasingly popular. In the UK communities band together to compost a whole street is worth of waste. Even city councils are getting in on the act.
These larger projects are sometimes called industrial composting
The difference is is that industrial composting is a lot hotter and can work more quickly.
Many products ( especially compostable plastics), have been tested under industrial composting conditions. Therefore, while a product might be classed as both biodegradable and compostable, it might not break down in a backyard compost bin.
That said I have composted many such products in my own bin.
Compostable Plastic Products
These compostable plastics, like oil derived, are extremely versatile.
They can be thin and flimsy which means they can be used to make
PLA Compostable Plastic Bags
And liners to for paper cups to make them waterproof.
They can be harder and more rigid making them ideal for making
Rigid packaging for food
And longer lasting products like
See a wide range of compostable products HERE
Compostable Plastics Types
Cellulose derived plastics such as Cellophane.
Starch based PLA plastics. They are certified compostable.
Polyhydroxyalkanoates or PHAs are linear polyesters produced in nature by bacterial fermentation of sugar or lipids.
chicken feathers bioplastic.
Composting Plastic At Home
While most agree that PLA plastic is indeed compostable, many say that it can only composted in large scale municipal schemes.
They are wrong. I have been composting plastics for years.
Read more HERE
To be sure you are using a compostable plastic get one that has been certified compostable. Check out the logo.
Compostable Plastic Products
See a wide range HERE
A Note On Bioplastics
Most compostable plastics are also bioplastics. Bioplastics are made from natural materials such as corn starch.
However not all are compostable. For example ethane based plastics as used Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle which replaces 30 percent of the ethanol in their normal polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottle with 30 percent plant-derived ethanol. This means the bottle is still considered PET and can be recycled but is NOT biodegradable. Find out more here.
There is research being done into developing a compostable, oil-derived plastic. Watch this space BUT don’t fall for the old *biodegradable plastic bag trick see below.
*Compostable versus biodegradable plastics
You might see some plastics labelled described as biodegradable. You could be forgiven for thinking that this is the same as compostable plastic. It is not. Some “biodegradable plastics” are oil derived plastics with a degrading initiator added to make them fall apart (degrade) more quickly. Unlike compostable plastics they don’t always break down into harmless substances and may leave behind a toxic residue. Read more here