2nd September 2020
Know Your Plastics!!
With so many different materials available on the market and much confusion over what products are made from and how to dispose of them correctly, it’s no wonder consumers don’t fully understand what are the best products to buy for their requirements. Having met with numerous confused and mis-informed customers, it became evident to us that we needed to educate them on the different materials firstly before moving onto what products would work for them.
If you read any media article or social media post, many of them would have you believe that all plastic is bad and that we should all be only buying compostable products! But what does compostable mean anyway and what bin should we throw it in?
With that in mind, we decided to carry out our own extensive research on the topic so you, the customer and consumer, don’t have to. Working with our Purchasing and Quality Control departments and following the guidelines from the EU Directive on Single Use Plastics policy, we have put together a simple, but informative, reference guide on what type of plastics are available, how to dispose of them and more importantly what is due to be banned in the Single Use Plastics ban in July 2021.
It is also evident from customer feedback that there is a lack of understanding around Biodegradable and Compostable products. Which is better or are they the same thing we are being constantly asked. And what’s this “Closed Loop” term mean? Well hopefully, we can help remove some of the mystery that surrounds these terms and make life easier for everyone who just wants to get on with their day and enjoy their takeaway coffee or salad on the go without having to Google or ask Alexa what to do with the empty packaging.
Biodegradable is a term given to a material or product that will eventually decompose or disintegrate back into the natural environment. There is no time limit on how long this process will take as it depends on how its disposed of. A number of factors such as light, water, oxygen and temperature play a part in the decomposing process which will determine how long it will take to be fully degraded.
Compostable is a term given to a material or product that will degrade within a specific timeframe of approx. 90 days by being commercially composted. These products are certified to the European standard EN13432 following testing. It is important to note that compostable products need to be disposed of in a composting or food waste bin. If they are placed in a regular recycling bin, they will contaminate all the other recyclable items within that bin. If they are placed in a general waste bin, they will end up in an incinerator or landfill.
It is vital that a compostable product is sent away to be commercially composted in order to fully degrade as it was designed to do so. Without boring you to tears or losing an hour of your life you won’t get back, here’s the basic science behind composting: As part of the composting process, four factors need to be met to ensure an item is fully composted – Moisture, Nutrition, Temperature and Oxygen. This can be achieved by having compostable waste collected by a local waste collection company who have a composting facility.
Closed Loop is the term used to indicate a fully completed cycle. In terms of disposing of packaging, this indicates that a product can be disposed of in the correct bin, removed from site by a designated waste collection provider, recycled in the proper manner and the bi-product being utilised to produce new items.
In an ideal world, there would be multiple bins in all public areas, workplaces etc. for us to dispose of waste correctly but unfortunately that’s not the reality here in Ireland just yet and is probably still a long way off. Buying a takeaway juice and disposing of the Compostable Juice Cup and Lid correctly would generally either involve you taking it home to put in your own brown bin for collection or returning to the place of purchase to place it in their composting bin, if they have one that is. So sometimes, compostable isn’t always the best option, it all depends on the facilities within your environment. Consider other plastics that are commonly recycled such as PET (Polyethylene), rPET (Recycled Polyethylene) or PP (Polypropylene) as an alternative to a compostable product that won’t end up being composted properly.
I hope that this, along with our reference guide, has helped clarify some detail around plastics and recycling, and convince you that not all plastics are bad!