What on earth is wrong with "compostable" plastic?

False sustainable solutions sound good... but enable polluting companies to carry on wrecking the planet

More and more we are seeing compostable bioplastics in our lives. You’ve probably used them at gigs, festivals, or as take-away containers from local cafés. They promise a plastic that will degrade in an environmentally friendly way, a welcome move away from single-use plastics overwhelming the marketplace. But it is a lot more complicated than that. Bioplastics, it turns out, aren’t all that ‘bio’.

So what actually are bioplastics? Well, there are different types, but essentially they are classed as either biodegradable or made from plant-based materials.

However, they certainly do not degrade like a plant or organic matter does. Instead, a bioplastic must be composted at very high temperatures for up to 90 days in industrial composters called in-vessel composters.

They cannot be put in your food caddy, or even your home recycling, because they contaminate other plastics and UK recycling plants are simply not equipped to sort through bioplastics and dispose of them properly. So what happens? They end up in general waste and eventually landfills, even our oceans.

The damage caused by bioplastics varies, from PLA which takes several weeks to degrade, to oxy - or oxo-degradable plastics, which are petroleum based and can break down into microplastics. I don’t know about you, but nothing about that screams ‘pollution solution’ to me.

We are constantly being swindled by companies and their ‘green’ campaigns which are often little more than greenwashing. And bioplastics are one such example.

With nearly five million tonnes of plastic used in the UK every year, half of that being packaging, it is essential steps are taken to radically reduce single-use plastics, which unfortunately include bioplastics.

In essence, bioplastics cannot be recycled at home, they cannot go in your food bin, only a very small selection can be composted in home composting machines, and there is simply not enough satisfactory infrastructure to compost them on large scales, as they are meant to be.

This all means that bioplastics are simply single-use plastics. They go to general waste and landfills and will behave as normal plastic does because they will never receive the conditions necessary to degrade naturally.

So what’s the solution?

It’s quite simple really. Reuse, reuse, reuse. Say no to all single-use plastics, including bioplastics, and champion keepcups, lunchboxes, reusable water bottles, and flasks.

Join the Refill Revolution!