The Real Green Option to Nasty Plastics Frazer Walker http://www.ecosac.net Plastics are a major contributor to litter, clog up our depleting landfill sites and consume around 33.7 million gallons of oil each year for plastic bag manufacture alone. Although plastic used as packaging has been in common use only since the 1960s, we have come to rely on it as part of modern living – at supermarket checkouts alone, we use around 17 billion carrier bags every year!
Frazer Walker http://www.ecosac.net
Plastics are a major contributor to litter, clog up our depleting landfill sites and consume around 33.7 million gallons of oil each year for plastic bag manufacture alone. Although plastic used as packaging has been in common use only since the 1960s, we have come to rely on it as part of modern living – at supermarket checkouts alone, we use around 17 billion carrier bags every year!
Recycling plastics is viewed as a ‘greener’ option but there are associated environmental and cost disadvantages. To be recycled, plastics must be separated, split and emptied, cleaned and bundled, put onto transport as a low-density product, taken to a recycler x miles away on a vehicle burning polluting fossil fuels and then reprocessed, employing energy equivalent to that of a product using virgin materials.
A relatively new but well-proven range of products has the eco-friendly packaging solution. These are ‘biodegradable polymers’ made from natural and sustainable corn starch-based materials developed as non-food crops and which are 100% GM-free and traceable. These products can be deposited with organic waste, such as greenwaste and kitchen foodwaste, into both home and commercial composting units where they totally disappear within a given timescale, leaving no residues to contaminate the finished compost.
There have been a number of products termed ‘degradable’ or even ‘biodegradable’ which are usually a mixture of plastics and biodegradable polymers and although they break down over a period of time, do not fully biodegrade and compost. There is the real danger that these will leave harmful residues such as toxic heavy metals which can enter the food chain.
The only way of guaranteeing that a product is fully biodegradable and compostable is by looking for Certificates of Compliance DIN 54900, BS EN 13432:2000 and ‘OK-Compost’ If the product does not have any of these performance labels (usually illustrated as a seed in a hexagonal logo) the advice is leave well alone.
Products such as blown film made from cornstarch biopolymers have had their ecological credentials and performance proven for around 12 years and the list, which is not exhaustive, is collection sacks for greenwaste (grass, dead plants and the like), carrier bags at checkouts, kitchen waste and back-of-store organic waste and mulch film for fruit and vegetable propagation in open fields.
Another parallel market development is in the electronics industry where interest has been expressed in the use of biodegradable polymers for packaging. Unlike most plastics, there is no danger of ‘contamination’ to highly sensitive components from static electricity.
Replacing plastics with eco-friendly biodegradable and compostable starch-based polymers to divert organic waste from landfill and into value-added composting schemes is real and growing. A large number of Councils, waste management companies, community composting groups and individual householders have already made the switch and are realising the benefits. The real breakthrough will be when retailers realise that the change from oil-based plastic bags to biopolymers is the only sensible option and in the UK it might take the form of the ‘incentive’ of a plastic bag tax as it operates successfully in Eire.
Frazer Walker for Natural Matters 24/01/06
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