20/05/2014

The Green Waste Solution: Ethical Bags That Compost

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Green waste makes up over half our household garbage in Australia. That’s a whole lot of delicious nutrients  – from the point of view of the plants and worms – that go to waste when thrown in the red bin and carted off to landfill.

Even though the organic matter would break down naturally in natural environments, landfill is a dry, oxygen free place where no one stirs the waste or adds the liquid necessary for composting microbes to flourish (that’s usually illegal).

Composting is one of the best things you can do to reduce your waste output and carbon footprint. We’re huge advocates of composting (you can find an array of green waste tips and tricks on our Facebook page), and we’ve just partnered with the leading brand of certified compostable plastics, BioBag, who are sponsoring our EnviroMentors modules of Compost Critters and Lunches Unwrapped, helping us deliver education on responsible composting and packaging to more NSW students.

The plastic bags we’ve been using since the 1960s have a useful lifespan of mere minutes – unfortunately their shelf life is upwards of 450 years. That’s only until they begin to break down, after which the bag simply breaks up into little pieces of plastic, much of which ends up harming wildlife in ocean gyres like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

While reducing our plastic consumption is a crucial part of the path to a sustainable future, compostable plastic is the alternative for the plastic use we just can’t move away from (hands up anyone who want to pick up after their dog using paper towel…), and a truly viable solution for managing your kitchen scraps both in individual homes and through council green waste programs.

The newest generation of compostable plastics embody cradle-to-cradle design and the company devotes significant resources into ensuring their production process is sustainable from start to finish.

Compostable/biodegradable/degradable – what’s the difference?

‘Degradable’ means the product will break down. It’s a largely meaningless term as everything will break down… eventually. Degradable plastics are petroleum-based and differ from conventional plastics only in that they have had metal salts and chemicals added to them, which causes the substance to become chemically weakened in certain conditions (oxygen, heat and UV light) and break down into smaller pieces of plastic at a faster rate. The remaining plastic cannot re-enter the growth cycle and is not environmentally benign. Tasmania’s plastic bag ban allows compostable plastics to be used but not ‘degradable’ plastics.

‘Biodegradable’ signifies the product is capable of undergoing biological anaerobic degradation through the action of a naturally occurring micro-organism (like bacteria). In essence it means that given time and the right conditions, the plastic will break down into its base components. These base components are not necessarily “green” or compostable and may contain toxins or even metals in harmful amounts. Be wary of becoming complacent in the use of plastic bags labelled ‘biodegradable’.

‘Compostable’ indicates  that a material or substance will break down into substances which are not toxic and which you can put in your garden and grow plants in. To compost, the product must by definition be ‘organic waste’ – i.e. made from renewable resources. Keep in mind that these may or may not be ethically sourced.

The bottom line is, do your research, and don’t be taken in by greenwashing. But take heart, companies like BioBag are making genuine efforts to put their money where their mouth is and support a forward-thinking industry that devises innovative solutions for waste which don’t cost the planet.

BioBag

BioBag works with local councils to implement new organic waste disposal systems. You can purchase their products from their Australian online store. It is also worth contacting your local council to see if there is a system is in place.

 

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