Is biodegradable packaging actually good for the environment?

You may have seen that there’s been a lot of buzz lately around biodegradable packaging, which has caused many people to question whether it’s even good for the environment. To clear up some of the confusion around this, we thought we’d try to share a bit about what biodegradable materials are, and how you should dispose of them.

What does it mean to be biodegradable?

The definition of biodegradable is: a material or object that when exposed to microorganisms such as bacteria or fungi, will eventually break down into natural elements such as water or carbon dioxide.  

How long does it take for biodegradable materials to break down?

There isn’t a straightforward answer to this. This is because what can be classified as a biodegradable material can fall under a pretty large umbrella. Currently there is no limit for how long something needs to break down for it to be classified as biodegradable, so some of these materials can still take decades. For example, it can be unclear with some disposable cups that are lined with bioplastic, whether they are even biodegradable.

What happens to biodegradable materials in landfill?

When biodegradable materials are sent to landfill, there isn’t the natural bacteria and oxygen present to break down the material, so it decomposes anaerobically without oxygen, at a much slower rate. In some cases, it can release methane, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

This year, the Australian Federal Government took a decisive move to counter this problem and start phasing out certain types of biodegradable plastics on the market, outlined in their National Plastic Plan

What should you do with biodegradable packaging?

Biodegradable materials should be disposed of in your general waste red bin. Where possible, you should avoid using biodegradable materials.

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