Compostable or biodegradable?
You're having a party at home and the urge to use disposable dishes seems appealing... You've heard one time that there are plastic utensil that can be composted. Is that a good option?
We did a little survey on compostable and biodegradable products and we present you the results here!
Biodegradable means that a product decomposes into carbon dioxide, water and biomass (mass of living matter) within a reasonable amount of time. There does not seem to be a fixed time frame; it is often said that decomposition must occur "fairly quickly". The term "biodegradable" is not regulated. So it seems that it can be applied to pretty much anything.
Oxobiodegradable bags are actually made of traditional plastic (made from petroleum) to which an additive has been added that breaks down under the action of light, oxygen and heat. You should be careful as it is generally quite easy to confuse them with compostable bags. Oxobiodegradable bags contaminate the compost.
A compostable product is also biodegradable but with an added advantage: when it decomposes in a compost heap, it releases nutrients into the soil, promoting plant growth. It produces no toxic residues. These are usually table scraps, plants, leaves, etc., which can be used to make compost.
There is domestic compost (the one made at home) and industrial compost (the one collected by the City, aka the brown bin).
Where do solid products identified as "compostable", such as packaging or utensils, go?
They are compostable in an industrial setting only, unless otherwise stated. This is because industrial compost is made in a controlled environment at much higher temperatures. You must be careful not to compost them at home, as they could alter the quality of the compost by degrading much more slowly. We must also make sure that they are accepted in our brown bin!
It is important to contact your municipality to find out the specifics of the compost program.
What do we do with the biodegradable coffee cup or the oxobiodegradable bag?
A disposable BUT biodegradable cup of coffee should be less worse than a "disposable only" cup? an oxobiodegradable bag should be less harmful to the environment than a traditional plastic bag?
First of all, you must not compost these types of products because they could contaminate the compost. They often contain plastic with an additive added to break it down into small pieces. We don't want that in our garden!
So we put them in the garbage. You think must be better for the environment, because the cup and the bag degrade faster than traditional plastic? WELL, NO. They won't degrade in the landfill and it's probably better that way. But why is that? Okay, let's talk about dumpsites...
The dump is made so that the products do not degrade. In a landfill, you can find readable newspapers that are over 40 years old. Everything is so compact that air cannot get in. The waste (such as plastic) that is dumped there essentially retains its original weight, volume and shape throughout the active life of the landfill. Organic waste (such as table scraps) mummifies rather than decomposes! We do this because we actually want to limit the toxic fumes in the air and water that would be generated by their decomposition.
There is therefore no real advantage to using biodegradable or oxobiodegradable disposable objects.
What should we do then?
The way we manage our landfills doesn't seem like a very good long-term solution, you might say. We don't have infinite space on the planet. I couldn't agree with you more.
We all come to the same obvious conclusion: the best waste is the one we don't produce. Otherwise, what we must remember is to sort our waste. A banana peel produces no (or almost no) toxic fumes when it decomposes in a compost pile, contributes to enriching the soil and does not take up space in the long run. If instead it is thrown in the garbage, it will degrade very slowly in a landfill and eventually produce methane fumes that will be released into the air. Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
When you consider that Canadian landfill emissions account for 20% of national methane emissions, your compost bin is your new best friend!