Plastic consumption is out of control and polluting our planet at a scale that has never been seen before. We can now see the devastating effect firsthand as plastic fragments litter every beach in the world. Wildlife ingest this plastic with lethal consequences and it’s making its way up our food chain and into our bodies. We can no longer ignore the problem and we should all be looking for solutions.
One solution is to replace disposable foodservice packaging made from conventional plastics (derived from finite fossil resources) with rapidly renewable compostable materials that are more suited to the short, functional life of these products. Compostable packaging, along with any remaining food residues, biodegrades and returns nutrients back into the cycle.
Designing environmentally sustainable packaging solutions that align with the principles of a circular economy is at the heart of the BioPak business. We believe that bioplastics and certified commercially compostable packaging are the perfect solution to replace conventional plastic foodservice packaging.
Bioplastics, PLA-lined coffee cups and compostable packaging have been in the spotlight. While it’s great to see bioplastics in the media there have been a number of instances of inaccurate reporting that is confusing consumer and underestimating the potential benefit these materials can have in reducing the amount of plastic polluting the world’s oceans.
BioPak founder and sustainability director, Richard Fine, has set out to debunk five of these myths and misconceptions about bioplastics.
Like most myths, they are inspired by reality but are mixing up fact and fiction and, in this case, are ultimately unhelpful to a budding industry that is solidly progressing toward a resource-efficient and sustainable future.
Myth 1: Bioplastic is just a biodegradable plastic
Wrong. A bioplastic is a substance made from organic biomass sources. Unlike conventional plastics – which are made from finite fossil resources (oil and gas) – bioplastics are made from a number of renewable resources such as plant oils, cellulose, starches, sugars, carbohydrates, bacteria and algae.
The production of almost all bioplastics emits less CO2 than that of conventional plastics.
Not all bioplastics are biodegradable. The bioplastic we use in BioPak packaging is certified compostable. This means it will completely biodegrade in a compost environment within a defined timeframe and leave behind no toxic residues.
Myth 2: Conventional plastic products with the 'biodegradable' additive are compostable
Plastics with a ‘degradable’ additive are not compostable. Marketing campaigns would have us believe that plastic products labelled as ‘degradable’, ‘biodegradable’ or even ‘landfill degradable’ are better for the environment – an extremely misleading claim (aka: greenwashing).
Unlike certified compostable products, there are no marketing restrictions when using the term “biodegradable” to describe the environmental benefits of a product. In addition to a lack of independently verified scientific evidence conclusive proof that the product will completely biodegrade, the main problem with these claims is there is often no defined timeframe for decomposition, and any remaining fragments that do not completely biodegrade could be ingested by micro-organisms and eventually make their way up the food chain.
Biodegradable additives do not address the problem of using fossil resources for single-use packaging and is certainly not a solution for littering. All they do is offer consumers and brand owners a false sense of sustainability and care for the environment.
These claims also create issues for composting infrastructure. Ultimately, they are still made of plastic and cannot produce toxin-free compost. Misinformed consumers who are trying to ‘do the right thing’ inadvertently contaminate compost waste streams with products that are made from conventional plastics.
Myth 3: Bioplastics can contaminate organic waste for commercial composting
Bioplastics do not decrease the quality of the compost created, and bioplastics that are certified commercially compostable do not contaminate compost waste streams. All BioPak compostable packaging has been certified to EN13432 or AS4736. These products are independently and completely tested (inks, glues etc.) and approved for acceptance in suitable commercial compost facilities. Certification gives the composters the confidence that the organic waste they’re accepting will not contaminate their process.
Australia’s environment ministers have made a commitment to eliminate all packaging going to landfill by 2025 by ensuring all plastic packaging is recyclable, reusable or compostable. So, there has never been a better time to ramp up composting infrastructure and use certifications to ensure commercial composters receive quality organic waste.
The BioPak Compost service is proof that organic recycling of foodservice packaging is scalable, practical and commercially viable. Together with our customers and partners, we’re proving the model in order to empower councils, and waste management industries to step up.
Myth 4: Reusables are the only eco-friendly solution to solve the world's plastic pollution
While we wholeheartedly support reusables as a solution to single-use plastic consumption, we also recognize it’s not always convenient or practical to always have your own reusables. It’s in these situations that compostable single-use food service disposables are the best solution – providing a safe, hygienic and cost-effective way to serve food and beverages to large numbers of people.
Myth 5: There's no point creating compostable packaging when commercial composting infrastructure isn't yet widely available.
Ah, the classic ‘chicken and egg’ adage. Thing is, waste management industries are the end of the line in our linear consumption economy. Innovation happens at the beginning of the product life-cycle and flows down the line to the waste management industries.
When PET bottles were first introduced they were not recycled and the same can be said for aluminium and metal cans. Only when sufficient demand for a raw material exists does recycling make commercial sense.
And sometimes? We have to lead by example. That’s why we’ve launched the BioPak Compost Service – working with commercial composting facilities in Australia and New Zealand to make commercial composting infrastructure for organics and compostable packaging more readily available. Together with our partners, we are proving the composting infrastructure model as a case study for local councils and waste collection contractors to adopt and make part of the journey towards zero waste.