What does BIODEGRADABLE mean?
- Biodegradable means that an item is broken down by the naturally occurring micro-organisms in the environment which use it as a source of energy. The result is small molecules like CO2, water and biomass.
- This process is dependant on what is available in the surrounding environment
- This is different to breakdown of plastics over time due to exposure to the elements, UV light and other destructive processes
- The speed of biodegradation is important for environmental impact, as well as any additives that are released during this process
What does COMPOSTABLE mean?
- Composting is the breakdown of matter by micro-organisms into “organic soup” called humus
- Some products biodegrade in commercial composting facilities within a certain time frame.
- Home composting systems do not reach the same temperatures as commercial facilities and vary with type of input and other factors, so just because a product is commercially compostable, this does not necessarily mean it can be put in your home system.
- There are different international composting standards that a product can meet. In New Zealand and Australia, the Australasian Bioplastics Association has standards for both commercial composting claims and home composting claims.
What is OXO-BIODEGRADABLE?
- Oxo-biodegradable plastics are standard plastics that have been mixed with additives to allow “biodegradation”. The plastic can then oxidise and fragment into smaller particles which remain in the environment.
- There is a concern that these products will lead to a build-up of microplastics in the environment. The EU have just passed a bill to ban oxo-biodegradable plastics for this reason.
What happens to biodegradable plastics in LANDFILLS?
- In New Zealand, most of our waste goes to municipal general waste landfills
- Although landfills are not designed for biodegradation, exposure to air, water and microbes stil occurs to a variable degree. In addition, bioplastics may be broken down by anaerobic digestion, although this releases greenhouse gases. The time this takes is unclear and difficult to predict because of the heterogenous nature of the landfill composition.
What makes a product ECO-FRIENDLY?
Many products claim to be eco-friendly for different reasons, and as a consumer you should assess each claim. A product may claim to be eco-friendly if, for example:
- It is made from a renewable resource
- The manufacturing process uses low energy, emits less greenhouse gases or is carbon neutral
- Less land is required for production
- It is biodegradable or compostable
- It is made from recycled materials, or is easily recyclable itself
Why is BAMBOO eco-friendly and what about the pandas?
- Bamboo is the fastest growing woody plant in the world and can grow up to 4 feet in one day! It does not need fertilisers to go and does not die when it is cut. This makes it very sustainable.
- Bamboo fibres are biodegradable with no harm to the environment
- The production of bamboo fibre is low energy and emits little greenhouse gas.
- Processing regulations for bamboo fabric are getting stricter as consumers drive ecologically friendly production. Even with its drawbacks, the production of bamboo fabric as compared to standard cotton still has huge ecological advantages.
- Even though it is fast growing, it is still possible to harvest too much, without leaving enough behind to regenerate. Depending on the type of bamboo and the location, this can and has historically destroyed the natural panda habitat and food source. In addition to this, there has been some concern that natural forestland is being cleared to make way for more bamboo plantations. Responsible manufactures should ensure their bamboo is sourced from reliable and transparent sources with certified sustainable practices. The FSC is a leading regulator of sustainable forestry so look for their seal of approval.
What is NEW ZEALAND’s stance on all this eco-friendly stuff?
- New Zealand has declared a climate change emergency and has committed to a carbon-neutral government by 2025.
- Under the Paris Agreement and Kyoto Protocol, New Zealand’s target is to reduce greenhouse gas emission by 30% below gross emissions for 2021-2030, and to reduce emissions to 50% below 1990 levels by 2050.
- New Zealand has the Zero Carbon Amendment Act 2019 which requires the government to continue to develop and implement policies for climate change mitigation and aims to reduce net emissions of all greenhouse gases (except biogenic methane) to zero by 2050.
- At the moment New Zealand does not have a standard for bioplastics.
- New Zealand does not yet have a commercial composting facility that routinely accepts compostable plastics, although many are open to the idea as per a 2017 survey (Beyond the Bin 2017).