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Green Claims - Is Your Product Truly Green?
When a product says it’s green it must be green. True? Not quite.
What is greenwashing?
Greenwashing occurs when there is a claim that
- a product is 100% biodegradable or compostable with no evidence of being certified to have met international standards;
- ordinary plastics are oxo or hydro degradable product;
- products are photodegradable, which means that they will biodegrade when exposed to sunlight. A popular example is the plastic “polybag” in which many magazines now arrive protected in the mail. But the likelihood that such items will be exposed to sunlight while buried dozens of feet deep in a landfill is little to none. And if they do photodegrade at all, it is only likely to be into smaller pieces of plastic, contributing to the microplastic population of the oceans.
What does it take to be a green and eco-friendly disposable?
To understand the idea of being eco-friendly, one must know important terms such as degradable, biodegradable and compostable
Degradation is a process whereby very large molecules are broken into smaller molecules or fragments. Normally, oxygen is incorporated into these molecular fragments. All normal plastics are degradable but it takes a long period of time to do so, normally in excesses of more than 500 years.
Biodegradation is a process by which microorganisms (microbes such as bacteria, fungi or algae) convert materials into biomass, carbon dioxide and water when left by itself in nature. That is, the material becomes food for the microorganisms to feed on. Hence the word "bio". The main material is non petroleum based and is usually made from plant such as corn starch or animal sources.
These microorganisms speed up the process of degradation from as short as a day to as long as a year and the products will "disappear" after some time if they are buried in a landfill/compost facility, with no toxic residue.
Carbon neutral - Incinerating these materials will release carbon gases but this can be offset by the amount of carbon dioxide they consume during their life time –that is they are carbon neutral.
Compostable - Being compostable is somewhat similar to biodegradation. But when the biodegradation process is carried out in a composting facility the conditions (water, humidity, temperature, and lighting) are optimally tuned to bring about a speedy biodegradation. Products termed compostable will not only "disappear", they will become fertilizers known as humus (very dark soil) and no toxicity is released.
Being ‘Green’ – Complexities and Realities
There are many complexities including composition of the product, variables of the supply chain from manufacture, packaging and transportation, distribution to consumption and problems with disposal involving seller’s practices, consumer behaviour, disposal facilities limitations, big corporations’ commitment and government policies, especially with the impact of Brexit.
Terms like ‘eco-friendly’ ‘green’ and even ‘natural’ are not regulated and have no defined standards. ‘Biodegradable’ is another such term and most products, especially disposables that claim to be so and destined for the landfill will not biodegrade even in our lifetime!
There will be more certifications needed down the road for the growing green industries but for now, let’s list out the certificates that will suffice. There can never be a truly green disposable product; rather it’s a matter of who is greener.
A green disposable product should have the following certificates to verify its eco-friendly claims:
- ISO 14001 – Environmental Management Standard
- ISO 14855 – Determination of Aerobic Biodegradability
- EN 13432 or ASTM D6400 – Standard Specification for Compostability (EN13432 - Leading European Standard; ASTM 6400 - Leading American Standard)
Element Products are made from Origo has the following accreditations:
ASTM D6400 & D6866 (OK Biobased by Vincotte – proves that it is made of renewable resources – 60 to 80% - 3 of maximum 4 stars).
Origo is a starch based bio-plastic made primarily from corn and yam. The polypropylene (PP) content in origo is assimilated with the corn. When micro-organism ingests and digests the starch aspect of the product, that component is fully broken down into compost. Element products are:
- 100% biodegradable and 70% compostable - given the correct conditions (temperature, humidity and the presence of microbes), Element products will biodegrade after 90 days. .
- 68% Carbon Neutral - when incinerated, reducing the amount of greenhouse gases significantly.
- Non-toxic - non-toxic humus waste produced which can be used as fertilizers and the non-toxic gas emitted when incinerated.
2. Limitations of Composting Facilities
- Until recently, the absence of rules and unregulated definitions and test methods, have resulted in incompatible materials being included, causing significant damage to the trust of users and technicians responsible for composting facilities.
- Many facilities are still not sophisticated enough to be able to separate the compostable from the non-compostable components of product efficiently and cost-effectively. Hence unless a product can be certified to be 100% compostable, it will either land in the landfill or cause damage to the composting facility.
- The dynamics of a modern landfill are very nearly the opposite of what most people think. They are designed, according to law, to keep out sunlight, air and moisture to prevent pollutants from the garbage from getting into the air and drinking water and this slows down the decomposition of the trash. They therefore preserve their contents rather than transform them into humus or mulch
- If the waste is buried too deep down where oxygen is heavily depleted, methane - a greenhouse gas with over 62 times the GWP (Global Warming Potential) of carbon dioxide is formed and may do more damage to the environment. modern landfills
- Some landfills are now being designed to promote biodegradation through the injection of water, oxygen, and even microbes. But these kinds of facilities are costly to create and, as a result, have not caught on.
- Aside from the big problem of the complex composition of products and hence the confusion on whether it should go for biodegradation, composting, recycling or simply being dumped, there is widespread ignorance of what type of products goes into what type of disposal bins.
- If you put the wrong item in the wrong coloured bin, it could end up in landfill instead of the composting or recycling facility.
- The compost routes seem to be becoming harder and harder to get product into in reality because there is no unified system for each borough/council and the fact that they are decreasing in number.
- Bottles that have the wrong type of plastic, or a tiny bit of drink residue, are likely to be rejected as well. And there are many materials where we simply don’t know if it counts as recyclable or not.
- While we do our best to give waste a second life so we can do our bit for the environment, the problems are too immeasurable and complicated to understand. Not many of us have been to a landfill and witnessed first-hand the scale of the problem we are contributing to.
- Recycling labels are not standardized and majority of recycled items are not labeled properly.
- Recycling info is hard to understand – with so much conflicting recycling info out there; it’s easy to get confused. And it would be a daunting task for anyone to familiarise themselves with the intricate demands of their local authority’s recycling system.
- Variation of recycling programs, as well as inconsistency of recycling communication at all levels, is a major cause of consumer confusion.
- Most recyclables still land up in landfills – incorrect recycling behaviour is common – most consumers still do not know or forget that certain materials are recyclable