Compostable / renewable
It is important to make the distinction between degradable, biodegradable and compostable. These terms are often (incorrectly) used interchangeably. Bioplastics can take different length of times to totally compost, based on the material.
Compostable Plastic is plastic which is “capable of undergoing biological decomposition in a compost site as part of an available program, such that the plastic is not visually distinguishable and breaks down to carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass, at a rate consistent with known compostable materials (e.g. cellulose). and leaves no toxic residue.” American Society for Testing & Materials (ASTM). In order for a plastic to be called compostable, three criteria need to be met:
- Biodegrade – break down into carbon dioxide, water, biomass at a certain rate
- Disintegrate – the material is indistinguishable in the compost
- Eco-toxicity – the biodegradation does not produce any toxic material and the compost can support plant growth.
In general compostable refers to a commercial composting facility, where higher composting temperatures can be reached. Composting “at home” is generally known as OK compost HOME.
Biodegradable Plastic is plastic which will degrade from the action of naturally occurring microorganism, such as bacteria, fungi etc. over a period of time. Note, that there is no requirement for leaving “no toxic residue”, and as well as no requirement for the time it needs to take to biodegrade.
Degradable Plastic is plastic which will undergo a significant change in its chemical structure under specific environmental conditions resulting in a loss of some properties. Please note that there is no requirement that the plastic has to be degrade from the action of “naturally occurring microorganism” or any of the other criteria required for compostable plastics.
A plastic therefore may be degradable but not biodegradable or it may be biodegradable but not compostable (that is, it breaks down too slowly to be called compostable or leaves toxic residue).
There is an important difference between biodegradation and renewable/biobased content. The renewable content is generally defined as the carbon content that comes from resources which are continually replenished on a human timescale such as cellulose, starch and fibres.
Renewable raw materials are a limited but regrowing resource. In contrast to fossil resources, renewable raw materials can be produced every year or within a few years. Traditional plastics are made from fossil resources, which is not a sustainable solution. This is why the development of plastics is turning towards using renewable resources. Using plastics made from renewable resources reduces the negative environmental impact of the polymer industry as it reduces the consumption of fossil-based resources.
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