WHEN IS A PRODUCT TRULY GREEN?
When a product says it’s green it must be green. True? Not quite.
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!
What we want to do here is to highlight what a consumer should specifically look out for in a green disposable product (besides the basic certificates of food safety) in order to ensure that one does not get “greenwashed”.
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.
What does it take to be a green and eco-friendly disposable?
To understand the idea of being eco-friendly, one must know the definitions of four important terms: Degradable, Oxo / Hydro 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.
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)