Are you confused about the range of terms used for plastic goods? Let up help you make a more informed choice.
Ideal for staff with responsibility for purchasing alternatives to single-use plastic, helping you to be clear on marketing terminology to avoid green-washing.
What does it mean? Materials or products that can be processed to be used again.
What to consider: Being ‘recyclable’ does NOT mean the product will be recycled. This depends upon the infrastructure in your destination. You’ll need to take responsibility for separating recyclable waste and ensuring its appropriate collection.
Made from Recycled Content
What does it mean? Materials or products made fully or partially with materials that have been recovered or diverted from the waste stream.
What to consider: These materials are a more sustainable option than products made with virgin materials. Products made from recycled content usually proudly display this in their marketing or on labels. Be sure to properly dispose of these after use to continue to the recycling loop.
What does it mean? This essentially refers to plastics that are made from non-petroleum based resources such as corn starch, potato starch and sugar cane. They’re commonly marketed as being compostable or biodegradable.
What to consider: Being made from renewable natural resources lowers their environmental impact during the production phase in relation to their traditional plastic counterparts, however these types of plastic require industrial processes to break them down. Bioplastic shouldn’t be mixed with traditional plastics for recycling as this will contaminate the recycling process with everything ending up in landfill as a result. A common bioplastic nowadays used for single-use items such as plates, plastic glasses and cutlery is PLA (Polylactic Acid). This requires industrial composting.
What does this mean? That the product does not contain the chemical Bisphenol-A.
What to consider: Products that are BPA free may contain other chemicals from the Bisphenol family such as BPS or BPF. These are very similar in composition. To avoid all Bisphenols, reading labels or requesting technical information sheets for products is a must.
What does it mean? A product capable of disintegrating (usually within 90 days) into natural elements leaving behind no toxins when in a composting environment.
What to consider: Most products advertised as compostable require industrial facilities for this to happen. These facilities should work to recognised standards like EN13432. Compostable plastics will not break down like other organic materials (food or garden waste) and will contaminate the recycling process if mixed with traditional plastics. Check with your waste collection company if they can accept these types of plastic.
What does it mean? A substance or object capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms, thereby avoiding pollution.
What to consider: Some advertisers use the word biodegradable and compostable interchangeably, however they mean very different things and it is worth being absolutely sure. Biodegradable plastic can break down into smaller pieces of plastic and eventually end up as microplastic which is also a significant issue when it comes to ocean pollution.
What does it mean? A substance capable of decomposing when exposed to sunlight.
What to consider: Sunlight makes photodegradable plastic become brittle and break into smaller pieces, it does not mean it breaks down into a natural substance. As sunlight does not reach the depths of landfill sites, products are very unlikely to degrade in landfill. Photodegradable products that float can break down into microplastics in a marine environment.
What does it mean? Products made from traditional plastic mixed with additives that mimic biodegradation.
What to consider: These products are not considered to be bioplastics, nor do they comply with current composting standards. Additives are designed to break down the traditional plastic more quickly, therefore contributing to the issue of microplastics.