September 10th, 2009
by Alex Hallatt
Biodegradable bags, takeaway cups/containers and other disposable items are only really good for the planet when they are composted effectively. As Lucy Siegle reports in The Guardian:
These products are biodegradable or compostable, made by substituting the oil-based synthetic polymers that ordinarily go into plastics for natural crop or waste resources ranging from cellulose from wood pulp to sugarcane or even potato peelings. The theory goes that you can have your cake, eat it and toss both fork and plate away without a care in the world to be absorbed by grateful Mother Earth.
Sadly, life doesn’t work like that very often. And neither does landfill, which is where most of this “biodegradable” waste ends up. Here, there is no guarantee that the air, water and heat needed by microorganisms to break down and feast on these biodegradable products will actually be provided. In fact, quite the opposite: today’s landfills are all about keeping the chemistry as stable as possible, which is why garbologists (landfill historians) can identify salad leaves years after they’ve been dumped.
I tend to use reusable bags, but sometimes I’m caught short and I’d like to know that any biodegradable bag I used would really break down in my garden and not end up as lots of tiny pieces of plastic.