The easy way to switch everyday products for compostable alternatives
Published: 3 September 2021
This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod
This article first appeared in our ‘Why organic is the answer’ issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 03 September 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
Each year, the UK’s plastic packaging generates approximately 2.2 million metric tonnes of waste.
The problem has been exacerbated by our need for PPE; campaigners have warned that the Mediterranean could soon contain more single-use face masks than jellyfish.
The most obvious way we can all help to reduce plastic pollution is by opting for plastic-free alternatives that biodegrade instead of persisting in the environment – but not all biodegradable products are made equal.
Materials and the environment
‘The term biodegradable is very often misused to market and advertise products and materials that are not actually environmentally friendly’, explains Julie Cook, founder of Eco Green Living.
Traditional plastic bags and biodegradable plastic bags are both synthetic and classified as plastics. A ‘bio’ bag or product does not mean it is plastic free; to avoid plastics you need to go for products that state ‘no polyethylene’, or ‘no PE’.
‘It is essential to understand that we should really be looking for products made from biodegradable materials, rather than synthetic plastics’, Julie explains. ‘Biodegradable plastics take three to six months to decompose fully. That is much quicker than their synthetic counterparts, which take several hundred years.’
Biodegradable or compostable?
‘Biodegradable’ refers to a material’s ability to break down and return to nature. For packaging products or materials to qualify as biodegradable, they must completely break down and decompose into natural elements within a short time after disposal – typically a year or less.
When disintegrating in compost-testing environments, the packaging must decompose into tiny pieces so that, after 12 weeks, at least 90% of it can pass through a 2x2mm mesh. For biodegradation, at least 90% of materials must break down by biological action (into CO2, water and minerals) within six months.
If a material is compostable, it is automatically considered biodegradable and it can be recovered in a composting process.
A biodegradable material will break down under the action of micro-organisms but can leave residues after one composting cycle and no guarantee for toxic residues can be given.
This means a biodegradable material cannot automatically be considered to be compostable before proof of its compostability has been given according to existing standards (EN 13432).
Products that show the European standard EN 13432 and American Standard ASTM 6400 will eventually biodegrade into carbon dioxide, water and biomass when metabolised in the soil, and will degrade under standard conditions.
‘This is why we use the term ‘compostable’ when describing our products’, Julie explains. ‘When we say our products are compostable, we mean that they have been certified as such by a third party.’
Compostable face masks
Eco Green Living launched the world’s first compostable face mask as part of its range of bags, sacks and films.
The products are all certified compostable and biodegradable according to the European Standard EN 13432, the US Standard ASTM D6400 and the Australian Standard AS4736.
‘Our products also hold other specialised certifications, such as the GMO-free certificate’, Julie tells us.
Easy, everyday swaps
Eco Green Living was founded in response to requests from customers of its sister company, Eco Green Communities, which provides councils with environmental stations that dispense EN 13432-certified compostable dog waste bags to local communities.
These bags are so popular that users contact Julie directly for their own supply. ‘From there, we ran surveys and found that people wanted more everyday swaps for their home’, Julie explains. ‘Eco Green Living was created in November 2020 with a view to offering these items’.
For Julie, everything in the home has an eco alternative – from the overflowing recycling bin to the car – and some things are much easier to swap than others.
‘Awareness is growing among eco-conscious shoppers’, Julie tells us. ‘For us, awareness of the damage that litter and plastic produce every day is high. We work with local authorities, volunteers, charities and beach clean groups, so the cause and effect of plastic across the environment is in our everyday work. On top of that, we’re keen dog walkers and an outdoor family; we see the damage and want to do something about it.’