‘Biodegradable’ is probably NOT what you think

 In Misleading labelling

‘Biodegradable’ is a buzz word right now but what does it mean? The answer may surprise you.

The term ‘biodegradable’ doesn’t mean anything because everything is biodegradable eventually. Does it really break down and save the planet? Not necessarily.

Legislation in the USA forbids the term ‘biodegradable’ to appear on any product unless that product is shown to break down into elements in nature within 5 years. In Australia, we allow companies to use the term ‘Bio’ without proof. Bags made of plastic are being labelled ‘biodegradable’ which misleads us to think they’re made from natural materials but this isn’t always the case. 

If anyone knows about plastic bags its Adelaide-based Scott Morton. He’s had 12 years in the plastics industry making and selling bags made from traditional plastic with a naturally occurring mineral to extend the life and quality of fresh produce. About 6 years ago Scott also started making and selling custom polyethylene bags and films.

With the environment the way it, Scott realised he had to take his plastic bag business into a sustainable future. In January 2018, Scott took over BioBag World Australia as Managing Director and part owner of the Norway-based business with 6 factories and 20 market or distribution partners around the world.

In Europe and the USA, where BioBag originated, the term ’Bio’ can only be used when it does actually break down with micro-organisms.

To be truly biodegradable, a bag must tick these boxes:

It must leave no toxic residues or traces of plastic behind.

It must be capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms and thereby avoiding pollution.

It will break down into organic matter anywhere microorganisms are present, including on land and in the water.

“It’s easy to label something ‘degradable’ or ‘biodegradable’ but these terms don’t mean anything unless proven by a performance standard like Australian Standard AS4736 for compostability,” says Scott.

Some plastic bags labelled ‘green and degradable’ or ‘naturally degradable’ contain an additive which makes them break down faster into smaller fragments of microplastics. Oxo-degradable bags are made from normal plastic, so they’re not really ‘green’ at all.

“BioBags are earth-friendly alternatives to plastic bags because they break down into harmless organic matter instead of harmful microplastics,” said Scott.

You can learn more about the differences between degradable, biodegradable and compostable here on our blog.

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