Pull out the party favors and strike up the band. Environmentally conscious manufacturers have figured out how to make compostable plastics. Sort of. Actually, it turns out that compostable plastics aren’t always compostable after all. Maybe we should delay the party for a while.
A recently released study out of the UK revealed that the majority of supposedly compostable plastics put in home composting bins never fully decompose. Surprisingly, 60% of the ‘certified compostable’ plastics researchers looked at were included in that group.
For the record, compostable plastics are sometimes referred to as ‘biodegradable plastics’. Same thing, different name. They are allegedly manufactured with materials that break down much more quickly than traditional plastics – until they don’t.
Back to the Drawing Board
Imagine the egg on the collective faces of all those who have pushed biodegradable plastics as a solution to the supposed plastic waste problem. It looks like it’s back to the drawing board for them. Or maybe not. They may keep pushing compostable plastics as-is because there is money to be made.
Isn’t that what it all boils down to? Plastic is the world’s number one manufacturing material because it is easy to use, cheap to produce, and can be molded into so many shapes and sizes. Its properties as a manufacturing material make plastic a money making machine. As long as there is money to be made, plastic isn’t going anywhere.
Eliminate Single-Use Plastic
Right now, the world is on a crusade to eliminate single-use plastic food packaging. Will the plan succeed? It is not likely. Plastic food packaging is what makes the typical American grocery store possible. Without plastic packaging, it’s impossible to preserve so many of the foods we now buy at the grocery store.
Get rid of the grocery store and we are all back to visiting the butcher, baker, and produce market on a daily basis. Modern society will never stand for it. We cannot even get the vast majority of Americans to fill up their travel mugs with coffee at home, rather than stopping by Starbucks every morning for a designer drink in a plastic cup. They are not going to go shopping every day for the staples.
It Doesn’t Matter to Most
Between all the hand-wringing about corporate greed and plastic waste, the one fact that seems lost on so many movers and shakers is that the plastic problem doesn’t matter to most of us. For right or wrong, that’s the way it is.
People see pictures of the plastic island some say is floating out in the ocean somewhere. How many have actually seen it firsthand? Not only that, how big is this island compared to the total volume of the world’s oceans? It represents a proverbial drop in the bucket. People are smart enough to know that.
We are busy paying our bills and raising our kids. We are more concerned about helping a family member deal with cancer or supporting a friend struggling through a divorce. The last thing on our minds is where the plastic bread bag will end up once it makes its way to the trash can.
Compostable Plastics Aren’t Necessary
If we are serious about reducing landfilled plastic, we should combine compostable plastics with taking a serious look at companies like Tennessee’s Seraphim Plastics. They have proven that plastic can be dealt with effectively when they do their commercial plastic recycling.
Doing so requires a change in the way we manufacture and use plastics, but we really can make a difference without having to resort to compostable plastics that do not really degrade in our home composting bins.