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Greenwashing and Compostable vs. Biodegradable vs. Degradable


Greenwashing and Compostable vs. Biodegradable vs. Degradable

Have you heard the term "Greenwashing"?

If you care about the environment you are going to want to read this!

How big business is taking advantage of you.

A simple Google search for the term "greenwashing" will bring up a plethora of information about how companies are taking advantage of consumers that are concerned about the damage that plastic is doing to our environment.

Here, we will sum up for you what this means and the impact that it may have on your decision making about biodegradable and degradable products.

Compostable as defined by Collins dictionary, is something that is able to be used as compost. And as we know, compost is something that is natural and free from any harmful chemicals so that it is safe to be used for plants, vegetables, etc.

Biodegradable as defined by Collins dictionary, is something that is biodegradable and breaks down or decays naturally without any special scientific treatment, and can, therefore, be thrown away without causing pollution. 

Degradable is defined by Collins dictionary as waste products, packaging materials, etc capable of being decomposed chemically or biologically.

More often than not, if a company says that its product is degradable, it means that it requires a chemical process to break it down and will usually take years or even decades to degrade. In addition to this, even if it does degrade it usually will mean that it is broken down to such a state that it may no longer be visible, but will still leave behind micro-plastics which are harmful to the environment.

If a company's product is compostable, you can be sure that they will say it to be so! Do not be misled by companies saying that it is degradable or biodegradable, only accept compostable!

This is where "Greenwashing" comes in.

Greenwashing is a term that is being used to describe companies that use misleading information about the environmentally "friendliness" of a product.

As defined by the Cambridge dictionary Greenwashing is, "behaviour or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is".

It has become acceptable to use the term biodegradable for a product that is actually made from plastic and has had chemicals added to it so that the material will break down faster than normal plastic.This is an all-too-common term that is being used to mislead consumers, because as we know from the definition of biodegadable it is a natural process and not one that is chemically induced.

The worst part is companies are using this to mislead or greenwash consumers into using plastic based products thinking that it is eco-friendly, when in fact the product is doing just as much harm by introducing micro-plastics into the environment and thus the food chain as well as adding chemicals on top of that and doing even more damage!

This is the most common greenwashing strategy: a company highlights an eco-friendly product, program or policy, but the core of its business products and practices is not as sustainable as it seems.

"To be considered compostable, the decomposition has to be measured by standardized tests, and take place within a specified time period, which vary according to the 'disposal' method chosen.

The most important thing you can know about being eco-friendly is...

If it doesn't say that it is 100% compostable and is accompanied by the certifications such as those provided by the TUV, ABA, "EN" and or ASTM then you can pretty well much determine that it is not eco-friendly!

When evaluating if a product is indeed compostable, customers should look for the appropriate/credible certification issued to the product, ensuring that a third party independent laboratory has verified and validated the claim presented by the marketers of the compostable product in question". Here in Australia this is done by the Australasian Bioplastics Association (ABA) and the more globally accepted certification is done through TUV Rheinland.

Products that are claiming to have additives added to the plastic to make them biodegradable are potentially misleading. TDPA or Totally Degradable Plastic Additives are added to the plastic during the manufacturing process and claim to break down the plastic under certain conditions. However, this may not necessarily be the case. Several studies have been done that show TDPA is not as effective as it claims and in fact it can cause more harm due to the amount of methane gas that it produces during the degrading process.

In essence, is adding chemicals to an already environmentally damaging product such a great idea? We do not know what impact this has on wildlife or micro-organisms when they are consumed and then when we in-turn consume them! Ideally, we should be looking at products, most commonly single-use bags, that are made from PSM starch base, using corn starch and other plant renewable resources as raw materials.

Two important things to remember:

  • Look for the OK Home Compost accreditation - if it can be composted at home then it's about the safest you can get.
  • If it has plastic in it or mentions HDPE or PET (most common types) then stay away from it as it's likely that it's not truly biodegradable.

 Suitable for industrial composting

 Suitable for home composting - note this will include numbers such AS0000 and or ABAP0000 so you have a reference for the license that has been granted.

Also suitable for home composting or industrial depending on certification shown.

Take a look at our compostable bags.

Please note that biodegradability must be well-defined and guarded by the following elements:

  • The appropriate disposal method- composting, anaerobic digestor, soil, marine.
  • The time that is required for complete microbial consumption, in the designated disposal environment, such as a professional composting facility.
  • A short certain time frame, which is 180 days or less, for certified compostable products. 
  • Entire consumption of the substrate carbon, digested by environmental microorganisms, as measured by the evolved CO2 (aerobic) and CO2+CH4 (anaerobic) traits which leave no residues behind.
  • Plastic degradability, partial biodegradability, or plastics that are designed to eventually biodegrade, are not an option at all. Scientific research has indicated serious health and environmental consequences regarding this type of degradability, and certain states have already banned these types of materials.
  • Analysed computably by reputable International and National Standard Specifications- ASTM D6400 for all composting environments, ASTM D6868 for paper substrate in composting environments, EN13432 for compostable packaging and ISO 17088 for International composting environments. 
  • “If other disposal environments like landfills, anaerobic digestor, soil, and marine are specified, then data must be provided showing the time required for complete biodegrading using established standardized ASTM, ISO, EN, OECD methods” (Ramani, 2014). 





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