Cellophane plant derived and biodegradable plastic

 A guest post from Michael Bloch blogging up on Green Living

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We see many news stories about developments in the plastics industry to make these items greener. With disposable plastic shopping bags being banned in some places and consumer concern acting as the writing on the wall for the industry, it’s certainly in the sector’s interest to make more environmentally friendly plastic bag and wrap products as soon as possible.

Degradable, compostable and biodegradable plastics may seem like recent inventions, but some have been around for a very long time. One such plastic is cellophane – and it’s now experiencing resurgence in popularity.

Cellophane being plant based didn’t click with me until I was doing some research recently for a restaurant employee who was looking for a biodegradable bag suitable for use with a particular food application – it was only then that it clicked with me the “cello” in cellophane stands for cellulose – the structural component of plants.

Cellophane was invented in 1900, but wasn’t commercially available until 1912. At that point it was mainly used for wrapping candy. When moisture-proof cellophane hit the market in the late 1920′s, it rapidly increased in popularity until the 60′s when alternative petro-chemical based plastics became popular – and we all know how that worked out for the planet.

Quite a few modern bioplastics use plants, but often they use corn as the primary component. Similar to using “food as fuel“; should we be using a grain or a crop grown on land suitable for producing food for non-food uses when arable land (without further deforestation) is becoming a diminishing resource?

Cellophane has an edge here as it can be made from farmed trees or from hemp; which can grow in relatively harsh conditions.

Regarding its composting and biodegradable attributes, I’ve read various reports stating uncoated cellulose film degrades within 10 days to 1 month when buried and nitrocellulose-coated cellulose in 2 months to 3 months. Complete biodegradation of cellulose film is between 1 – 2 months for uncoated products, and from 2.5 to 4 months for coated cellulose products. In a fresh water environment, the rate of biodegradation is only 10 days for uncoated film and a month for coated cellulose film.

As far as I know, corn based bioplastics take far longer to degrade and there’s also some issues with recycling bioplastics made with corn as they are currently classified as a number 7 plastic resin, meaning “other”.

That’s the good news about cellophane; but as with most things, there are some negative aspects too environmentally speaking.

Cellophane is made by dissolving plant fiber in alkali and carbon disulfide to create something called viscose. The viscose is then reconverted to cellulose in cellophane form after a sulfuric acid and sodium sulfate bath. The cellophane is  further treated with glycerol to make the dry cellophane less brittle. The cellophane may then be coated with nitrocellulose or wax to make it impermeable to water vapor. A few nasty chemicals in that process – for example, high levels of carbon disulfide are toxic; affecting the nervous system.

However, given the amount of processing and nasties it takes to turn petro-chemicals; i.e. chemicals derived from crude oil, into plastics and the damage those plastics do long after having been discarded, it would seem to me that cellophane is probably still better environmentally speaking. Stacked up against corn based plastic bags and wraps, the better/worse distinction is a little harder to discern.

Cellophane films and bags are readily available – just run a query on the terms in your favorite search engine to locate a stockist.

Tip: When composting cellophane, scrunch it up instead of laying it flat on your compost pile. This allows for air pockets and some air is necessary when composting any material.

Trivia: another plastic product that’s been around for at least a hundred years also based on plant material is linoleum.

Find out more about compostable and other types of plastic here


Cup to Compost – National trust, Boscastle

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur tour in the plastivan took us through Boscastle, a lovely old harbour and coastline maintained by the fantastic National Trust. In addition to keeping footpaths open and other essential maritime maintenance, they operate a cafe shop and visitor center (with immaculate toilets), down by the harbour. So far so good!

Not so good was that the cafe was using disposable paper cups! Eeek! As you know, most paper cups are in fact plastic lined and so not very disposable. Bah! Was just about to turn round and leave when I noticed that these cups were from Vegware. Vegware dont line their cardboard cups with the usual conventional non biodegradable plastic but a certified compostable lining. You can read more here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow I wanted to take photos! And ask lots of questions! Which Jon kindly answered.  As he says…..

“… when the cafe first opened in 2009, there wasn’t a modern conventional sewage system in Boscastle, and all the waste that would normally go for treatment went straight into the sea. Because of this, we were reluctant to have a commercial dish washer in the cafe that would have just contributed to this waste, and so looked for viable alternatives. Finding a fully compostable solution in the cups, cup sleeves, plates and wooden cutlery was part of the solution to this problem, but without making sure that they were composted afterwards it wouldn’t have been such a positive environmental statement from what is, after all, a conservation charity.

… we collect the cups, cup holders, plates and the untreated wooden cutlery that we use, and they are taken to a local farmer who shreds them. He then mixes them with his green waste and composts them into a peat free mulch substitute. This mulch is hen taken to the National Trust plant nurseries at Lanhydrock House near Bodmin, who grow, amongst all the other plant, the plants that are sold in the National Trust shop that adjoins the cafe in Boscastle. By doing it this way, we not only successfully recycle the disposables from the national Trust Cafe in Boscastle, but we contribute to saving the limited resources of peat bogs.”

Well done you!


PLA plastic products we use

One type of compostable plastic is made from  Poly Lactic Acid (PLA) Read more about compostable plastics here

Composting PLA Plastic At Home
While most agree that PLA plastic is indeed compostable (certified), many say that it can only composted in large scale municipal schemes. As we don’t have many large scale municipal schemes this they say is a pointless advantage.I say the days of large scale municipal schemes is fast approaching as governments aim to divert biodegradable rubbish from landfill sites.
AND I have been composting my PLA plastic for years in my Green Johanna compost bin.
It does take longer than other products and  sometimes I have found shreds of it in my compost but I dig it into the soil where it quickly disappears.
We have used and composted the following PLA plastic products.
PLA Compostable Plastic Bags
Fish in a biobag
These disposable, water-resistant bags are great for
fish and meat
Frozen foodstuffs and freezer bags.


Deli pots
Waterproof plastic pots with lids are great for all manner of deli delights including
Cream cheese
Deli counter lovelies
They can also be used to storefood in the freezer.

Disposable Cutlery  for  our big party

We haven’t used these but sourced them FYI

Dog poo bags


Remember, not all bio- plastics can be composted and some are not as green as they sound

Find out more about composting here


Compostable Plastic & Composting Standards

Biodegradable means …..

Biodegradable products break down through a naturally occurring microorganism, such as fungi or bacteria over a period of time.

They must degrade into simple, stable compounds which can be absorbed into the ecosystem.

More about biodegrading here

Compostable means…..To be classed compostable, items must

  • Biodegrade within a certain time (around the rate at which paper biodegrades.)
  • The resulting particles must be very small
  • The resulting biomass must be free of toxins, able to sustain plant life and be used as an organic fertilizer or soil additive.

compostable logo

Composting Standards

For a man-made product to be sold as compostable, it has to meet certain standards. One such is the

European Norm EN13432

  • This is a EU Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste (94/62/EC), EN 13432:2000 – “Packaging: requirements for packaging recoverable through composting and biodegradation”
  • It was introduced in 2000.
  • It has been adopted by the UK and is published as BS EN 13432 by the British Standards Institution.

Comprehensive evidence has to be submitted before a product gets ‘compostable’ certification.

HOWEVER compostable in this instance means that these products will break down in an industrial composter. Therefore, while a product might be classed as both biodegradable and compostable, it might not break down in a backyard bin.


Vinçotte, a Belgian accredited inspection and certification organisation,  provide a home composting certification service. Products that display the ‘OK Compost Home’ logo, can go in your bin.



The Association for Organics Recycling is working to establish a similar specification for the UK.

So, to conclue, compostable products must break down into carbon dioxide, water, and compost.

There are legally enforced standards by which you can measure the compostability of a product.

To be sure you are getting a compostable plastic get one that has been certified

Please note, biodegradable plastic does not always mean compostable. Sometimes it means the plastic product has an addative that helps it break apart more quickly.

One type of compostable plastic is made from Poly Lactic Acid (PLA). Find out about PLA plastic here

While most agree that PLA plastic is compostable, many say that it can only composted in large scale municipal schemes.

As we don’t have many large scale municipal schemes, this is,they go on to say, a pointless advantage.

I say the days of large scale municipal schemes is fast approaching as governments aim to divert biodegradable rubbish from landfill sites.

Besides which, have been composting my PLA plastic for years. Biobags, deli pots and cutlery have gone into my bin and been transformed into mulch for the roses.


reasons to start composting .

Try one of these compost bins for come & garden

Useful stuff to know

Why leaves rot – How Biodegrading Works

Why most plastics dont -t Why Plastic Doesnt Rot

What is PLA (poly lactic acid) plastic

Remember, not all bio- plastics can be composted and do not biodegrade – bioplastics dont mean biodegradable.

Yup its confusing but try everything you ever wanted to know about plastic.but were too scared to ask, to find out a lot more about plastic.

Boycott Plastic

Inspired to give up plastic? Check these plastic-free products. Use them then compost them.


Polylactic acid, (PLA)

There are some truly biodegradable and compostable bioplastics.
Biodegradable products break down through a naturally occurring microorganism into simple, stable compounds which can be absorbed into the ecosystem. More about biodegrading here
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.

Compostable Plastics – PLA

Polylactic acid, (PLA), plastic is an example of a biodegradable bioplastic. PLA or polylactide was discovered in 1932 by Carothers (at DuPont). (Whats a bioplastic? Find out here)

PLA is a bio-polymer
Bio-polymers can be produced from natural resources
A natural bio-polymers is one that is extracted directly from biological raw materials such as cellulose and cotton from plants, wool from sheep and silk from moths
Man made bio-polymers are also derived from plants but then further treated using chemicals.

Poly-lactic acid (PLA), falls into this category.
PLA is made from the starch found in plants including beets, sugar cane, and tapioca.. Starch is a natural polymer, a white, granular carbohydrate produced by plants during photosynthesis Starch can be made into bio-plastic. However when exposed to water starch bio-plastic swells and deforms.To stop this happening the starch needs to be modified

Starch is transformed into PLA by;
1) Using microorganisms to transform it into a lactic acid – a monomer
2) Then chemically treating the lactic acid to create a long chain polymer, polylactic acid – PLA

There are several different types of Polylactic Acid
Racemic PLLA (Poly-L-lactic Acid),
Regular PLLA (Poly-L-lactic Acid),
PDLA (Poly-D-lactic Acid),
and PDLLA (Poly-DL-lactic Acid).


PLA can be recycled back into lactic acid and used to make products of the same quality as the original- there is no down-cycling. Currently only recycled in Wisconsin and Belgium.



PLA products biodegrade into water, carbon dioxide and organic materials. and so can be composted.

“First, the moisture and heat in the compost pile split the polymer chains apart, creating smaller polymers, and finally, lactic acid. Micro-organisms in compost and soil consume the smaller polymer fragments and lactic acid as nutrients. Since lactic acid is widely found in nature, a large number of organisms metabolize lactic acid.  The end result of composting is carbon dioxide, water and humus, a soil nutrient.  This degradation process is temperature and humidity dependent. “
In commercial composters this should take about 30-45 days. In home composting bins it might take longer. Obviously the bulkier the product the harder it is to break down, and the longer it takes.

Rotting Away

a PLA bottle left in the ocean will biodegrade in six to 24 months.
It can be used for medical implants that biodegrade over time

NB PLA will not compost in landfill.

Composting PLA Plastic At Home
While most agree that PLA plastic is indeed compostable, many say that it can only composted in large scale municipal schemes. As we don’t have many large scale municipal schemes this they say is a pointless advantage.I say the days of large scale municipal schemes is fast approaching as governments aim to divert biodegradable rubbish from landfill sites.
Moreover I have been composting my PLA plastic for years. We have used and composted the following PLA plastic products ( including Biobags , Deli pots  and disposable Cutlery  )

The Rest

Are PLA products safe to eat?
People …PLA products are not edible yet are generally non-toxic. Small pieces of PLA will most likely pass harmlessly through the gastrointestinal tract. Once passed through the gastrointestinal tract it will be eliminated in the stool. 
Pigs …PLA can apparently be returned to the food chain. I have heard it suggested that you can feed it to your pig. Please double check.
I am allergic to corn; could I still use PLA products?
Yes, the heat used in the process of deriving the starch from corn destroys the immunologically reactive profiilin. Profilin is the chemical that usually causes an allergic reaction and is not found in PLA products.

Burning PLA Plastic
PLA will not emit toxic fumes when incinerated.

Useful stuff to know

Remember, not all bio- plastics can be composted and some are not as green as they sound
Find out about composting here.

PLA products I use  



One years worth of junk mail for one person in the US equals about 2 feet. Most of these letters are credit card offers says Dan MacFarlane Which leads me on to my mail and the envelopes in particular. It’s those horrid little windows that are the bloody awful icing on the stale cake of junk mail.

In today’s market, four types of window coverings are used

  • 1. Polystyrene: a plastic film designed specifically for the needs of high-speed envelope production;
  • 2. Cellulose based films, such as: glassine and acetate films;
  • 3. PLA: a new film derived from corn; and
  • 4. Other plastic films used for specific, non-standard applications.

But who can tell the difference – not me. And even if they could you know they are not going to be recycled.

Envelopes with windows are no good for Plastic Free Freaks – especially when all they contain is rubbish.

While I might not be able to ban every envelope from my life I can stop a lot coming through my door.

  • I have converted to paperless billing for all my services.
  • On the rare times I have to send a letter I only use windowless envelopes.
  • The war on junk mail is being waged.

Ways To Stop Junk Mail

Thankfully I have this wonderful man with his infinitely detailed website, (listing all the ways you can stop junk mail), to help me. You can read about him below or go straight to his website here

Compostable envelopes

Envelope makers! You could try this for your window envelopes

“Low scratch, compostable film specifically formulated for use in envelope windows. Meets USPS readability standards for window envelope film. Tinted with a light green hue.”


Find other plastic free office supplies and electronics, here.

Diary of a Junk Mail Campaigner

My blog (‘Diary of a Junk Mail Campaigner’) deals with anything I feel people should know about junk mail. It explains – usually at length – how people can reduce unsolicited mail and why stamping out junk mail is not as easy as signing up to the Mailing Preference Service. It investigates whether of not self-regulation by the direct marketing industry can make junk mail more sustainable and exposes the endless stream of junk mail research (invariably showing that direct mail is valued and welcomed by 110% of the population) for what it is; junk research. Occasionally there’s something ‘fun’ on the blog – interesting junk mail art, a video, or just a nice story – but in general the blog is dead boring. As a source for information about junk mail it’s unrivalled though…”

The same description could apply to the website ( The aim is to provide detailed and independent information about reducing junk mail. Being a web designer I’m very aware that for instance the Guide to Stamping Out Junk Mail is far too long – few people have a long enough attention span to read through it all. But then the aim is not to entertain people and there are already plenty of websites with short (but incomplete) guides to reducing junk mail. In an attempt to provide the information in a more compact format I set up the website a while ago.

It’s build around the Junk Buster application which people can use to contact up to six opt-out services in one go. I like to describe it as a one-point-stop for reducing junk mail. As for achievements, since the launch of Junk Buster many people have become aware that it’s possible to opt-out of receiving paper directories (people can opt out of the Yellow Pages, Thomson Local Directory and BT Phone Book via the application). None of the directories tell the public that they have this option but after Junk Buster was featured in the Telegraph, Daily Mail and Independent in March things started to change; the Data Publishers Association has now for the first time acknowledged that people can opt out. is actively campaigning for a central opt-in scheme for directories and I reckon they may achieve their goal.

Another achievement is that Royal Mail is no longer secretive about how many (few!) people register with its Door-to-Door Opt-Out (which stops unaddressed mail delivered by the postman). In 2008 a Royal Mail Manager accidentally told me the figure was less than 0.5% of all UK households. The figure became public knowledge and just a couple of months ago the company publicly confirmed that the figure is currently 0.7%. At the same time the Direct Marketing Association confirmed that only 0.0006% (!!) of households is registered with its Your Choice Scheme. Having these figures out in the open is important because it undermines the industry’s argument that stopping junk mail is easy – if opt-out rates are so negligible something is clearly not working…

Finally, I spent much of my time giving people advice on how to solve their junk mail misery. In a way the campaign is about tackling the junk mail problem, one piece of junk mail at a time. I guess it will keep me occupied for some time to come .



Straws Compostable

The picture shows a turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nose (You can watch the video in full here). Every years hundreds of thousand plastic straws end up polluting the environment. Ecocycle estimate that 500 million straws are used in the US every day alone.

If you must have disposable straws, (and none of these great reusable options suit), then why not try these compostable ones made from cornstarch. They look and act  just like  plastic straws…  but they are made from PLA cornstarch and are certified compostable.

Find out more about compostable plastic here.

You can buy them from Vegware. They do everything from black cocktail (1000 for 10.00)  to jumbo smoothie.

I have seen  paper straws on ebay but (as far as I know), they are not certified compostable and  may be plastic lined. They certainly are plastic packed.

Any one know any more?


One type of certified compostable plastic is  Poly Lactic Acid (PLA) plastic.

Some say that PLA plastics do not break down in home compost bins. THEY ARE WRONG. We have used and composted a number of  PLA plastic products.

You can see the PLA products we have used here.


Or you can try these  reusable stainless steel beauties or glass straws. 


Cutlery – disposable & compostable

Though it’s not the greenest option there are times when disposable partyware is the only choice. For our last big bash, some years ago now, we bought disposable cutlery made from PLA compostable plastic. It is just like normal plastic cutlery, tough and hard wearing. So much so it can be washed and reused – at least we do… and are still doing so.
The cutlery is really useful for picnics and outdoor parties. We always leave stuff behind and we don’t feel too bad about loosing this.

We got ours from Denny’s. They also do compostable straws, plates and glasses. In fact everything you need for entertaining.

Since we bought, a lot more companies have started to offer compostable party ware and new products are appearing all the time. It would be worth looking around.

There are those who say you cannot compost PLA plastic in home composters. We did. The knives did biodegrade. It took some time but it happened. However we do have a Green Joanna, the queen of compost bins.

We rented the extra stuff we needed for the party from a catering company . We probably could have hired cutlery too but we were curious to try the cornstarch stuff.


PLA Starch Bags

PLA starch bags are described as a compostable plastic.Which can be confusing as they are a very different product from conventional, oil-derived plastics. Many people dismiss the compostable claim despite them being certified compostable  See plastics and introduction for more on this.
PLA plastic  is made  from plant-based materials such as corn starch. You can find about more about starch derived plastics here .
Once again they are compostable and certified as such.

Same, same but different?

PLA bags are almost but not quite the same as conventional plastic bags. However they share enough similarities to make them a very useful substitute and can be a great tool in your plastic free armoury.
They are not quite as strong as conventional plastic bags so are not good as carrier bags but they are water proof for a limited amount of time, ( eventually there is seepage), but you can certainly use them to carry fish or meat home. 
They are compostable and despite what folks might say they can be composted in a garden compost bin. Read more about PLA and composting here

Biobags & Others
One example of PLA bags is sold by the company Biobags. Back in the early days they were amongst the first to sell  in the U.K. They have very good credentials. Their bags are certified to BS N13432 standard and are manufactured sustainably at facilities certified to ISO 9001 and ISO 14001. BioBag is the world’s largest brand of certified biodegradable and compostable bags and films made from Mater-Bi®. Biobags are the bags used in Modbury the plastic free town.

These days many companies make and sell PLA bags and you can buy the from supermarkets. NB do check you bag is certified compostable.


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.

What For & Which Size?

I use them for
fish and meat – (I ask that they use my bag instead of a plastic bag).
Buying loose frozen foodstuffs … yes you can frozen peas loose!
As freezer bags.

If you can get it, I find the 6 liter size best to take shopping. The 8 litre is obviously bin liner size, and eyebrows are raised when you ask to have your steak put in a bin liner..


PLA bags  can be bought from most big supermarkets. Biobags and other PLA bags can be found in hundreds of online shops  including Amazon & Ebay. Some suppliers are listed here.


Find loose food outlets listed on the loose foods list
Other kinds of useful, plastic free bags are listed  here.


And never forget that bio-degradable plastic bags do not biodegrade where as compostable plastic bags do compost. Not all bio-plastics (plant derived plastics) are compostable.


Degradable, biodegradable or compostable


Deli pots PLA compostable

These  deli pots are  made from  PLA plastic. This looks and acts just like plastic but is made from corn starch rather than oil. Not only is this a renewable resource, it is also  compostable 

I have bought  two size of pots ( with lids), specifically made to serve food portions,  which I take to the shops with me and use instead of the plastic pots provided.

I use them for
Potato salad
and anything else that takes my fancy.

I use them in supermarkets, farmers markets and anywhere that sells loose.

My Pots

Olives 350
The 350 ml
Big enough to hold a jar of Tesco olives

beetroot 500

The 500 ml
Big enough for a jar of beetroot

Please note – the lids fit securely but are not completely waterproof – you might need to put the pots in a cornstarch bag for additional security.


The pots are really sturdy and don’t as you might imagine start biodegrading the minute you use them. For instance, I use them keep my home-made cosmetic cream in – months later there is still no sign of disintegration.

You can wash them but they do melt in hot water so cannot be washed at temperatures hot enough to sterilise. For this reason I would recommend that you take a new pot with you every time you go shopping.However that  need not stop you reusing them around the house. I recycle them as freezer pots , use them for sprouting seeds, growing cress and other garden based activities of which more later.

Find out more about PLA here


You can buy pots at various places on-line, they have started appearing on Ebay and there are some very good deals on Amazon

I bought mine from WF Dennys – very cheap but minimum purchase 100.

Vegware do a great range of shapes and sizes and will sell smaller amounts.