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What You Don’t Know About Bio Packaging

Let’s get one thing straight, I think biodegradable packaging is a very good thing. I encourage large companies like Coca-Cola to push for more environmentally safe plant-based plastics in their packaging. I get excited to see take-out restaurants offer biodegradable cutlery. But I’m also aware that our current system is not setup for biodegradable packaging. Here’s a primer on our current eco-dilemma.

  • Nothing decomposes in a landfill. Or at least it's not supposed to. Landfills are specifically made to keep all your garbage intact for as long as possible because if that stuff were allowed to degrade, our American waterways would make the Ganges look like Evian.
  • Biodegradable material decomposes anyway. If you see something that says "biodegrades in landfill conditions" then that's exactly what it will do. Unfortunately that's not a good thing.
  • Biodegradation releases carbon and other bad gases. Rotting stuff lets off gasses. That's why roadkill smells and beer barrels have bungholes (look it up). If this carbon gets into the atmosphere, it's a bad thing, but if it's collected, we can produce energy from the gas.
  • Landfills are not made to catch gases from degrading materials. See where I'm going with this? If nothing is supposed to decompose in a landfill, why would they need to be sucking off carbon and methane gases. If you're lucky, you're local landfill captures 30% of the gas. If you're not, then your lungs and the ozone do.
  • Biodegradable packaging supports GMO. You think they're making corn plastic from sweet yellow corn? That stuff is expensive, so they go for the cheap, fast-growing, tasteless corn churned out by some lab. If we're really unlucky, the might even plow down a wild grass field so they can plant it.
Slippery slope, I know, but it's not all bad. This industry is still in it's infancy, so we can help shape and change it. Here are some steps you can take to make it better.
  1. Find a professional compost facility. Unless a package specifically says it is safe for home composting (like Biobags), then it should really be disposed of at a professional compost facility, which is specifically designed catch all those nasty emissions. Find one here.
  2. Go for recyclability. If you don't have a compost facility near you, or you know you'll never make the effort to get there, buy products that you can recycle in your area. Just make sure you now which plastics and metals your city accepts.
  3. Lobby for biodegradable pickup. If you get your garbage and recycling picked up, why can't you get your compostables picked up? Diverting these materials from the landfill can make a world of difference when it comes to pollution, so write to your city and tell them you want them to come up with a way to make it easier on you.
  4. Lobby for non-GMO bio-plastics. If you're a true clean air and water lover, then you have to hate how GMO's erode soil and suck down pesticides. So if you see a company selling a product in biodegradable packaging, write them an email and kindly ask if they use non-GMO corn or sugar beets because that's the only biodegradable material you buy. HINT HINT.
  5. Educate others on biodegradable packaging. If all of this is news to you, it probably is to someone else, so pass the info along. If we do all these things, we can not only improve the biodegradable packaging industry, but make our lives easier and healthier.

Jennifer Stewart is the Office Manager and wanna-be organizational psychologist at Modern Species. For more posts from her, click here.

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If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.- Katherine Hepburn