In the world of plastics, the term ‘bioplastics’ can often encompass two distinct characteristics: plastics derived from bio-based sources and plastics that are intrinsically biodegradable under specific conditions.
Biodegradable polymers are pivotal in producing plastic materials and applications that microorganisms can naturally consume. The underlying principle is to facilitate the conversion of organic components within plastics into elements like carbon dioxide, microbial biomass, and mineral salts. This natural biodegradation process requires plastic material characteristics conducive to decomposition and suitable environmental conditions. Unlike additives added to conventional plastics, e.g., oxo-degradable plastics, actual biodegradation is mediated solely by naturally occurring microorganisms and their enzymes.
Compostable plastics have a promising future in certain applications
With mounting concerns about food waste’s environmental impact, compostable plastics present a promising solution. By supporting the quality of collected bio-waste, certified compostable products mitigate contamination of this type of waste by contributing to more effective waste management. Bio-waste collection bags, fruit labels, coffee capsules, and food-soiled packaging are all suitable applications for compostable plastics.
Differentiation and standardization
However, a critical need arises for clear differentiation between certified compostable and environmentally biodegradable plastics. The latter are fully biodegraded by microorganisms in specific environments, like agricultural soil or freshwater. Labelling standards must reflect these distinctions to ensure accurate understanding and prevent confusion.
Standardization plays a pivotal role in validating biodegradability claims. There’s an increasing call for uniform requirements for industrial composting procedures, testing, and certifications. Such standards will assist plastic producers and waste managers to achieve a better sorting and recycling of bio-waste and align with shared sustainability objectives.
As we navigate the complexities of bio-based plastics, understanding the nuances of compostable and environmentally biodegradable plastics empowers us to make informed choices, paving the way towards a more environmentally responsible tomorrow.