The increase in the amount of “biodegradable”, “compostable” and “eco-friendly” packaging and takeaway products is obvious. Increasing awareness of the detrimental effect plastic has on the environment has caused consumer demand for these ‘eco friendly’ alternatives. This is great in theory, but in practice it’s causing new problems.
The benefit and problems with “green packaging”
Green packaging comes with some benefits. Firstly, they are not made from fossil fuel. Secondly, when disposed of correctly, they can break down into natural products.
But these items are still far from the silver bullet solution to our waste problems. Often they are only used for a short amount of time and thrown away. This type of packaging also take a lot of energy to produce and dispose of. Green packaging is also commonly mislabelled, which causes confusion. Consequently these items become contaminants in recycling and organics streams.
The many different types of “green packaging”
A biodegradable product is made of materials that can be broken down by microbes, fungi or bacteria. Products like this are often made from plant-based substances like corn starch. The problem is they need special conditions to break down. If they do not make it to these special facilities they will still enter the environment and cause harm. In landfill, just like food waste, they can produce methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. Bio-plastics do not mean biodegradable. Highly processed biodegradable products may leave behind toxic residue.
Compostable material is biodegradable but biodegradable material is not always compostable. Compostable items break down in a shorter timeframe under the right conditions. Once broken down they become nutrient rich organic material. But compostable may mean both commercially compostable or home compostable. If commercial composting is required a home compost will not help those products break down.
If something is labelled as degradable, it only means it breaks down into smaller pieces faster. So a degradable plastic bag will just turn to microplastics a lot sooner than a regular plastic bag. This category is one to definitely avoid!
Green packaging often have misleading labelling, and it is important to be aware of that. A green coloured labelling, a picture of a leaf or a claim to be “eco-friendly” does not mean the item is compostable or biodegradable. Products that are made of compostable and plastic can also be a problem because they cannot go in either the recycling or organics bins. To make sure a product has been tested, check if it has the official Australian standard label for compostable and home compostable.
What is the solution?
Unfortunately green packaging is not our answer to reducing waste. It is always better to REDUCE, REFUSE and REUSE. Always carry your own container, cutlery and cup so you can avoid take-away containers whenever possible – at Santos we have a great range of beautiful and functional Sustainable Wares to help you along the way.