Know Your Terms

With so much concern about sustainability and life cycles, many companies are actively seeking ways to mitigate the ecological footprint of their products. This gets carried out in many ways, whether it be rethinking the design at its root and replacing key elements with more sustainable materials. Or simply finding ways to reducing the use and consumption of these harmful products. This search for more sustainable products has created a situation where many companies will do just about anything to appear sustainable to the publics eye. 

The general public knows that large plastic consumption and use of plastics have negative effects of the environment. Thus seek products that have been made in such a way that reduces these harmful effects. It is not uncommon to see plastic products that have labels such as “biodegradable”, “bioplastics”, or “compostable”. With so many terms being tossed around how does the average consumer know which one is best for the environment and their use and recycling habits. 

A recent study, went looking for these answers. In short they found that many products, labeled as “biodegradable” where enhanced with other chemicals and products so that the microbes within he plastic decompose at a faster rate, however when compared with other plastics that had no “green” enhancements, did not natural degrade faster. These claims, can quickly tart to get confusing and misleading. Just because a product is labeled as a “bio plastic” doest not necessarily mean it decomposes naturally. These terms to many can appear interchangeable. So it is important to understand just what the product is claiming to be. 

Bioplastic - Plastics made from plant base starches, sugars, and wood cellulose. Refers not to the time or method of decomposition. 

Biodegradable - referring to plastics that break down in a reasonable amount of time in certain environments. Refers not to the method or main material in use. 

Compostable - Products that decompose at a quick rate, and contribute positively to soil.

These definitions can have overlapping instances in many cases, and naturally leads to companies and markets to take this opportunity to shed their product in a new light. Unfortunately there is little regulation at the moment on the use and labeling of these terms, as the exactly definition of what is considering to be a reasonable time and reasonable environment for bio degradation and compostablilty have not been defined by the Federal Trade Commission.