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Calling all garbage disruptors

Danny Ruspandini - Impact Labs Australia
Danny R.

I had some biodegradable packaging made from corn to get rid of last night - since we don't have a compost bin, I looked up what the next best way to dispose of it is.

...and opened up another rabbit hole.

One source I found said that it takes exactly 72 days for corn packaging to biodegrade so whether I throw it in the garbage, recycling, or redcycle, it'll have the same fate. That sounded awesome but also a bit too convenient - this stuff is never that easy! So I kept scrolling.

One eye-opening article which was definitely at the skeptical end, basically called biodegradable plastic greenwashing, since it's not as simple as chuck it in the bin and it looks after itself.

More reading confirmed that plant-based plastics are much more complex than they are marketed as (there were lots of articles about this, here's just one).

For plastic alternatives to break down in the times they claim, most of them need specific conditions or even specialised processing plants to make it happen.

If it ends up in the ocean for example, it will likely never break down. It'll just live on, the same way regular plastic does.

The various materials used to replace plastics - corn, mushroom, wheat, other plant-based materials - means that each has its own ideal scenario for breaking-down. To me it was sounding like the addition of plant-based packaging was creating more chaos for rubbish sorting, rather than simplifying anything.

Over their lifetime compared to traditional petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics are a great alternative - but we need to be able to dispose of them correctly.

So where does that leave us?

In general, it seems like if you have a compost bin of your own, that's where plant-based packaging was kind of intended to end up - so you're good.

If you don't have composting available though, I honestly don't know.

From everything I found, regular garbage sounded like the next best (or least-bad) option after composting. Oxygen and light are two components needed in the breaking-down process, so if it gets buried under landfill, it may not get those.

Recycling is the worst option - recycling equipment needs to be able to tell plant-based materials from others to sort it correctly, otherwise the plant-based item can contaminate the batch and send it all to landfill. It doesn't sound like appropriate sorting is a thing yet.

There are companies working on variations to plant-based plastic alternatives, such as marine-degradable (so if it ends up in the ocean, it can safely be eaten by sea life), as well as plastics that break down at room temperature rather than requiring facilities to generate ideal conditions.

The ultimate scenario is no packaging at all (I wonder if that'll ever be possible).

Airbnb disrupted the travel industry. Uber disrupted cabs. Who's gonna disrupt the waste industry..?

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