Going green is no longer an optional luxury life choice; it is an essential responsibility that everyone must embrace. This is a motto we have wholeheartedly accepted here at Polystar Plastics, and we are passionate about working towards a greener future, investing our resources into developing and manufacturing environmentally-friendly alternatives to plastic. Here we explain the differences between biodegradable vs compostable plastic bags as well as looking at recyclable.
Making Educated Decisions For Greener Packaging Solutions
There are lots of new terms being thrown about related to eco-friendly and sustainable packaging materials, it can become confusing to keep up with their strict definitions. Terms such as recyclable, compostable and biodegradable are commonly used to describe greener packaging options but although the terms are used interchangeably, they do in fact, refer to different processes.
What’s more, some manufacturers are labelling their products as biodegradable when they are not.
Unsuspecting consumers are buying products they believe to be sustainable, when they are not. The European Bioplastics Association have become aware of this issue, and are working with manufacturers to stamp out this problem.
As a purchaser, you need to be educated about the differences in the definitions in order to make informed decisions for your company when choosing a sustainable packaging solution for your company. Here we’ve explained what exactly biodegradable, compostable and recyclable means for plastics and carrier bags, as well as the benefits.
Compostable vs Biodegradable And Recyclable Packaging?
Biodegradable vs compostable are the two words that are often used simultaneously but actually mean two different things. While biodegradable refers to any materials that break down in the environment. Compostable items are made of organic materials which then decompose with the help of microorganisms, to completely break down to a form of ‘compost’. (A compost is a nutrient-rich soil ideal for growing plants.)
Therefore, for a material to be considered as 100% compostable as according to its definition, it must be made from organic materials that break down into completely non-toxic components. Namely water, biomass and carbon dioxide. It must also be guaranteed that these non-toxic components will not harm the environment.
Although some materials can safely decompose in your home to be used in your garden compost, think along the lines of food waste or apple cores, not all compostable materials are suitable for home composting.
Compostable products are made from natural materials such as starch and decompose fully into ‘compost’ without producing toxic residue, as they break down. As well as meeting strict requirements as defined in The European Standard EN 13432.
Compostable products are fully plant-derived and they require higher levels of heat, water, oxygen and microorganisms to fully break down than what your home compost can provide. Therefore, composting is a controlled process that usually happens in an industrial composting facility.
Compostable products are not suitable for home composting unless the product has been certified as Home Compostable. For anything to be legally labelled as a compostable product, it has to have been certified to break down in official industrial composting facilities within 180 days.
Compostable Plastic Bags
At Polystar Plastics, our compostable bags and film are 100% compostable and EN13432 Accredited. This means you can line your compost caddies with our compostable liners, placing it all in the compost without having to worry about the effects on the environment.
Through continued research, development, and field trials, Polystar is proud to be one of the key independent specialist UK manufacturers able to produce this incredible generation product that is completely compostable.
Advantages of Compostable Plastic Bags
The main advantage of our bio-plastic is that it does not contain any starch. Starch is sensitive to moisture so if you left standard compostable bags in damp conditions (e.g. inside the bin or under a sink); they can begin to prematurely degrade. This can lead to your waste ending up on the floor and not in the composter.
Our technology creates compostable bags that are a blend of co-polyester and PLA (or known as sugar cane, which is a renewable resource).
The benefits of compostable bags are:
- 100% compostable and EN13432 Accredited.
- Outstanding mechanical properties and perform in a way similar to regular polythene bags and film
- High content of natural resource raw material
- Superior breathability
- Excellent ink adhesion for professional print quality
- An environmentally friendly alternative to standard polythene film and bags, our degradable film is designed to break down naturally making it easier to dispose of and eliminating the need to recycle or take up space in landfill sites.
Our compostable plastic bags all adhere to the following specifications:
- Are manufactured in the UK at our own facility.
- Can be made in any size although the most common are 7 or 10-litre caddy liner, 25-litre bag and an 80-litre sack.
- Available on a roll or loose in boxes
- Fully printable with your logo and details
If something is biodegradable, it will eventually break down into smaller and smaller pieces by natural processes.
When something is biodegradable, it is when a material can be broken down naturally by microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi. The term itself is quite vague though, as it does not define the length of time needed for products to decompose. The key point differentiator to compostable materials is that there is no limit on how long biodegradable materials take to break down.
Unfortunately, this means that technically any product could be labelled as biodegradable because most materials will eventually break down, be it in a few months or hundreds of years! For example, a banana can take up to two years to break down and even some types of plastics will eventually break down into small particles.
Some types of biodegradable plastic bags require specific conditions in order to break down safely and if left to decompose in a landfill, they turn into smaller pieces of plastics, which can take a long time to dissolve and produce harmful greenhouse gases.
Therefore, even though decomposing will happen naturally to many biodegradable plastics it can still cause harm to the environment. On the positive side though, biodegradable plastics do decompose a lot faster than traditional plastic which is known to take hundreds of years. So, in that respect they do seem a far more eco-friendly option for the environment.
Are compostable and biodegradable plastics recyclable?
Currently, compostable and biodegradable plastics are not recyclable. In fact, they can contaminate recycling processes if wrongly placed into a standard recycling bin. However, with the development of technology, work is underway to create compostable solutions that can also be recycled.
Recycling is when a used material is converted into something new, extending the life of materials and keeping them out of life fuels. There are some limitations to recycling though, for instance, the number of times the same material can be recycled. For example, standard plastics and paper can usually be recycled only a few times before they become unusable, whereas others, such as glass, metal and aluminium, can be continuously recycled.
There are seven different types of plastic packaging, some commonly recycled, others almost never recyclable.
Here at Polystar, our focus is on creating a greener future so we have developed an exclusive range of recycled Post-Consumer Waste films. Our PCWFlex films are a range of recycled films which can be used to make recyclable plastic bags, that are some of the greenest products on the market.
Our PCWflex films incorporate UK sourced Post-Consumer Waste (PCW) which has been collected, washed, shredded and re-pelletised. This recycled polymer is then used to create the middle layer of a co-extruded film structure.
By using recipes that contain various amounts of recycled polymer, PCWflex technology delivers the same mechanical properties as virgin grade PE and can be applied across much of our range. Non-shrink films start at 30% but can contain up to 100% PCW polymers, and our shrink film recipe can include an impressive 50% PCW polymers without losing any of the functionality you would expect, whilst all still remaining 100% recyclable!
Final words on biodegradable vs compostable
As you can see, there is a lot more to the terms ‘biodegradable’, ‘compostable’ and ‘recyclable’ than meets the eye! It’s important for consumers and companies to be educated on these matters in order to make informed choices when it comes to choosing packaging solutions.
If you are interested in sourcing greener packaging alternatives we’d love to hear from you. Please call us on 02380 232153 or contact us online to take advantage of our free consultation service and see how much you could save.