Simply Speaking - Plastic does not biodegrade

In being bombarded by 'environmentally friendly' claims when considering your packaging there are some facts you need to be aware of so that you're not tricked into thinking your purchasing something that isn't actually as environmentally friendly as you understood it to be.

Simply speaking - plastic does not biodegrade. If you come across any plastic product with 'additives' that allow it to biodegrade then they are simply not telling you the whole story. Also beware - 'biodegradable' plastics cannot be recycled in either the curbside or RED recycling programs as they taint the process of actually recycling the other plastics as they contaminate the polymers.

Recently we've seen on large marketplace websites claims of 'biodegradable bubble wrap'. Here's the perfect example of misleading claims. We know as we used to sell this product which is no longer manufactured by a well known Australian brand as it was discovered that these claims were in actual fact - false. It was originally believed that due to an additive put in with the plastic that the bubble wrap would in fact degrade under certain conditions when put in landfill. The truth of the matter was that the plastic was at best likely to simply break down into smaller and smaller particles and likely to contaminate instead of biodegrade. As a result the Australian manufacturer no longer makes this product and Get Packed no longer sells this product - and if you see it out there then be aware of the following facts.

The ACCC (Australian Competition & Consumer Commission) has recently put out this article - Biodegradable, degradable and recycling claims on plastic bags

FACTS:

  • The Trade Practices Act 1974 requires that businesses provide consumers with accurate information about goods and services. Any business or company making false or misleading representations regarding their products (whether it be about degradability or otherwise) will find themselves in breach of the Act.
  • Degradable - material can be called degradable under particular environmental conditions - it undergoes degradation to a specified extent, within a given timeframe, using a relevant and identified standard test method. It can be claimed as a misleading term without qualifying the process of degradation.
  • Biodegradable - no definition or single understanding of this term exists. As a result simply using this term can be seen as misleading (and therefore in breach of the Act)  as it may mean different things to different people.
  • Recyclable - suggests a plastic product can be recycled - which may be misleading unless qualified how it can be recycled. Eg through specialised independent recycling and collection facilities - which can be problematic when either no or a few faciities exist or when they are - are not available to the public.
  • Recycling - if it is claimed that a product has had a previous life and therefore been recycled then to what extent it has been recycled has to be specified. The amount of pre-consumer and post-consumer waste needs to be specified. Eg - 15% recycled content has been used to create this product.
  • 100% biodegradable or 100% degradable - there is no question what this means and is an absolute claim. It says that the whole of the product will biodegrade or degrade in the same way and over the same time period - and that's not likely.

At Get Packed we do have an Environmentally Friendly Packaging Category of packaging materials. But in this we have qualified this under the terms reduce, re-use and recycle. We don't make claims of degradability unless we specify to what extent it is degradable. And considering we have some plastic products in this category we also specify to what percent there is either recycled content or why it is considered environmentally friendly under the premise of 'reduce'. That is, less plastic has either been used in it's creation - or less plastic is required of the user for the same outcome.

 


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