You would have seen them floating around in your local store. Traditional plastic products now stating they are made with ‘50% recycled plastic’ or ‘50% Plant Based Plastic.
Firstly, let’s break up what this means. For 50% recycled plastic, instead of producing plastic items that are 100% made and manufactured for that item, 50% of it is now made from recycled plastic, or rPET, that has come from somewhere within their owned and operated ecosystem.
For 50% plant-based plastic, traditional plastic is merged with plant-based materials (made in part or completely from organic matter, e.g. sugarcane or corn starch).
The term ‘plant-based’ refers to the source of the material itself, not how the resulting plastic will behave after it’s been thrown away.
So unfortunately even though they may be ‘50% Plant-based’ they are not necessarily biodegradable. In fact, even in industrial composting, 50% plant based plastic products won't break down at all.
Without that intense heat, plant-based plastics won't degrade on their own in a meaningful timeframe, either in landfills or even your home compost heap.
The main issue with these products is their end of life. They are often not recycled properly or with ‘Plant-based’ plastic may not even biodegrade, so the same amount of plastic is heading to landfill. And, even worse, often when the 50% plant based plastic starts to decompose it leaves behind the 50% that is traditional plastic as tiny pieces of microplastics.
These larger companies often fall short of promoting or educating their consumers on how to recycle these new ‘50%’ variants.
However, in saying that, we must note it is commendable that these larger companies are doing something. It shows they have listened to their consumers demanding more sustainable practises and are making a change, albeit slowly.
With this 50% phenomenon, there is still 50% less plastic being produced than there usually would be for that product, which ultimately helps lessen the amount needed to be produced for production.
Unfortunately in some cases, the main priority of these products isn’t just to increase their environmental standing, but to get in front of the new ideals of the conscious consumer. On the extreme side, this is also known as ‘green-washing’.
You may have also noticed that these products will have branding and new colour schemes, often with greenery to promote their ‘environmental image’, and if we're being honest these products tend to make a huge fuss without following the correct end-of-life requirements that these products require.
At Compostic we encourage companies of all sizes to look at the plastic they’re producing and work out ways to lessen it. However, with this needs to come proper education around how your consumer then recycles the product. No matter the recycled plastic content, if it's disposed of incorrectly it’s still 100% of plastic into landfills.
One such example of a corporation doing this right is Coca-Cola, when they switched to 50% recycled plastic in 2020. Now in a perfect world they would use 100% recycled plastics as there is definitely enough around to cover production, but considering how much less plastic they are producing this is a great accomplishment for the earth.
However they didn’t just make this announcement then leave people to it. In the UK Coca-Cola has worked closely with the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) for 20 years. They both invested in Recycle Zone on-the-go recycling facilities in 2008 and Coca-Cola is one of the founding members of WRAP’s UK Plastics Pact. It also has similar recycling trade deals across the world.
It takes 75 percent less energy to make a 50% plastic bottle from recycled plastic compared with using virgin material, and it’s always important to remember that using recycled content in the manufacture of new products and packaging is the whole point of recycling.
Not only does it mean that less new plastic is being used, it also ensures that it is being kept in the packaging recycling system and out of the environment.
Plant-based plastics seem attractive at first glance – but in order to not dig ourselves further into the hole of global plastic-pollution, it’s important that we examine all of the options carefully. As demand grows, we hope that businesses, local councils and individuals support the options that are best for people and for the planet.
Consumers are savvy people, and it's through their purchasing habits that companies are slowly realising that traditional plastic isn’t good enough. Although it is great to see these larger companies making a change, there are so many better alternatives available across bin bags, relealable bags, clingfilm and lunch boxes that are fully biodegradable.
Without consumers making the conscious effort to make a choice towards the better alternatives, nothing would change. Yet it's been humbling to see how passionate individuals are about making the right choices when it comes to what they purchase, and at Compostic we’ve been glad to be part of that journey from the start.