Waste is a major concern in our society. In the past, the worry was more about wasting money or time, but the newest type of waste affecting our livelihoods is municipal solid waste. Specifically, I’m referring to plastic. It is widely known that enormous quantities of plastic are ending up in our oceans. According to an article by BBC, 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been thrown away since mass production began back in the 1950s. However, less than 10% of that quantity has been recycled. But instead of the overall problem of plastic in the oceans, today I want to focus on a specific type of plastic that was advertised as a solution to this problem. I’m referring to compostable plastic. But is it all that it cracks up to be?
While compostable plastic is a step in the right direction, the main problem is how they degrade. The majority of compostable plastics are only compostable at appropriate industrial facilities that have the correct conditions and microorganisms to degrade the material. In other words, while products may say ‘compostable’ on their label, it usually means that they cannot be naturally composted at home. This is a misleading advertisement because the companies who use products with these conditions do not make it clear to their consumers that they cannot compost it themselves like it suggests. In the BBC article, they noted an experiment that tested several plastic bags of different materials including biodegradable, compostable, oxo-biodegradable, and high-density polyethylene (conventional). The experiment subjected these bags to three environmental conditions including seawater, soil, and open air for a period of three years. The results showed that the only one that degraded in any meaningful way was the compostable one in seawater, which disintegrated in three months. However, the same bag in soil remained intact for two years. The rest of the bags lasted the full three years. So, this shows that burying some compostable bags will not help.
The point of this post is to bring awareness on why it’s so important to be critical of what you read or see advertised to you. We need to constantly be challenging claims to ensure proper testing is completed and the claims are accurate. Without actual laws that force companies to adhere to plastic manufacturing regulations, companies will continue to find loopholes and ‘greenwash’ the packaging. Greenwashing refers to when a company implements hollow environmental policies that are misleading or ineffective in what they promise all for the purpose of satisfying their corporate social responsibility to the environment. Greenwashing is a major problem in the corporate world, which is why to ensure real change is enacted, we must hold these companies accountable.