Many
different materials are used for packaging including metals, glass, wood, paper
or pulp, plastics or combinations of more than one material as composites. Most
of these enter municipal waste streams at the end of their service life. Over
67 million tonnes of packaging waste is generated annually in the Europe union
countries, comprising about one-third of all municipal solid waste (MSW).
Plastics contribute 18 per cent of the 10.4 million tonnes of packaging wastes
produced annually in the UK (DEFRA 2007). Discarded packaging is also a very
obvious source of litter, posing a major waste management challenge.

In recent years, the recycling of
packaging materials has increased but the recycling rates for most plastic
packaging remain low. A large number of different types of polymers, each of
which may contain different processing additives such as fillers, colorants and
plasticizers, are used for packaging applications. These composition
complexities together with contamination during use often render recycling
uneconomic compared with disposal in landfill. Although the proportion of waste
being landfilled has fallen in recent years, around 60 per cent of municipal
waste in England still ends up in landfill. This presents environmental
concerns, resulting in strengthening of regulations on waste (e.g. Packaging
and Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EEC) and UK Packaging Regulations (1998).

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Biodegradable plastics with functionalities
and process abilities comparable to traditional petrochemical-based plastic
have been developed for packaging applications. Typically, these are made from
renewable raw materials such as starch or cellulose. Interest in biodegradable
plastic packaging arises primarily from their use of renewable raw materials
(crops instead of crude oil) and end-of-life waste management by composting or
anaerobic digestion to reduce landfilling. The disposal of packaging materials
is particularly significant in view of the recent focus on waste generation and
management as important environmental aspects of present-day society.

In addition
to performance and price, biodegradable plastics must offer advantages for
waste management systems in order to realize an overall benefit. This paper
discusses the potential impact of biodegradable plastics, with particular
reference to packaging, and waste management via landfill, incineration,
recycling/reuse and composting. It provides an overview of the key life cycle
issues that inform judgements of the benefits that such materials have relative
to conventional, petrochemical-based counterparts. Specific examples are given
from new research on biodegradability in simulated ‘home’ composting systems.

2.
Biodegradable waste 

Biodegradable waste includes
any organic matter in waste which can be broken down into
carbon dioxide, water, methane or simple organic molecules by micro-organisms
and other living things using composting, aerobic digestion, anaerobic
digestion or similar processes. In waste management, it also includes some
inorganic materials which can be decomposed by bacteria. Such materials
include gypsum and its products such as plasterboard and
other simple organic sulphates which can be decomposed to yield hydrogen
sulphide in anaerobic land-fill conditions  

Biodegradable
products or materials are naturally broken down by biological agents, such as
bacteria and fungi, into raw materials. The goal of supplementing biodegradable
products in your everyday life is to recycle our natural resources and keep the
Earth clean and free of growing landfills. According to The Environment Today,
not all products that claim to be biodegradable are safe or effective. Some
products may produce harmful toxins as they break down while others can take
more than 30 years to break down, or cannot break down in landfills. Read
product labels and reviews when shopping for biodegradable items to add to your
house, office or yard.

2.1 At Home

You most likely use more biodegradable products on
a daily basis in your home than you are consciously aware of. Some of these
items include food scraps and coffee grounds, paper towels, toilet paper,
newspapers, junk mail, paper plates and cups, clothing and towels. The market
for biodegradable household goods is growing fast and there are a number of
various products currently being released. You can now find biodegradable dish
soap, dishwasher detergent, laundry detergent, glass and multipurpose cleaners,
diapers, pet waste bags, trash bags and eating utensils.

2.2 At School and Work

Similar to your home, there are numerous
biodegradable products used throughout the majority of schools, from
kindergarten to universities, as well as in the average workplace. These items
include printer paper, paper towels, toilet paper, paper plates, bowls and
cups, parts of textbooks and notebooks, paper folders and cardboard boxes. In
addition, many school and office supply companies are responding to the growing
demand for biodegradable products. According to physorg.com, some companies are
now producing biodegradable pens, mechanical pencils, rulers, pencil cases,
page protectors and project folders.

2.3 In the Garden

It is outside, in
your garden or yard, that you may be the most green. Almost all of the waste
that comes from your garden or yard is biodegradable, such as weeds, grass and
plant clippings, fall leaves, peat pots, plant stakes and plant-based
pesticides. Purchase all-natural and organic fertilizers to grow your garden
and buy biodegradable lawn trash bags to collect all the waste.

3. Types of Biodegradable Products

Biodegradable materials are
products that decompose naturally through temperature, sunlight or the
processes of bacteria, fungi, molds and other living organisms in a process
known as composting. Food waste, grass cuttings and tree leaves and branches are
all products commonly composted. The Biodegradable Products Institute–a
non-profit association of people and groups from government, industry and
academia–has certified several types of products that were shown to be
biodegradable in a managed composting facility.

3.1
Biodegradable Bags

Biodegradable bags and film must
meet certified compostable standards, meaning they are able to break down in a
managed composting facility. The mention of compostable bags usually brings to
mind trash bags and lawn bags, but many new ideas are being implemented, too.
Frito-Lay recently introduced a chip bag made entirely out of biodegradable
plant materials and Farnell Packaging Limited has films and bags that are
aerobically biodegradable.

3.2
Food Service Items

Food service items such as trays,
disposable cutlery, cups, carryout boxes and even gloves, aprons and hairnets
are now being made with biodegradable materials. These products range in design
from moulded sugarcane and wheat fibre moulded plates, bowl, platters,
compartment trays and takeout food packaging from Bridge-Gate to grease
resistant compostable food wraps from McNairn Packaging.

3.3
Resins

Of all the biodegradable products
available, resins are perhaps the most important. Resins are materials that are
used to make biodegradable bags, films, food service items and many other
products. Most resins are melted and then formed into products, using various
methods. Some resins are even suitable for injection moulding.

3.4
Packaging Materials

In a day, Americans throw away
150,000 tons of packaging material, according to the Air & Waste
Management Association. Non-recyclable plastics place a big burden on
landfills, but this burden is being eased by the increasing use of
biodegradable packaging materials. Among the biodegradable products are Plastics
starch-based compostable packaging products and Plastic Suppliers corn-based
flexible and shrink wrap packaging.

3.5
Organic Waste

Organic waste such as food,
plants, grass clippings and tree leaves is material that breaks down naturally.
These items are commonly added to compost piles and require no special
treatments or processes to break down. Organic waste makes up around 10 percent
of landfill waste and can account for 50 percent of household waste during
active growing seasons, according to Purdue University.

 

4. THE EFFECTS OF BIODEGRADABLE WASTE

A key issue in the environmentalism argument is the reduction in
non-biodegradable waste, or garbage that will not decompose. Instead there is a
large push toward making as many products and packages as possible out of
biodegradable products to reduce the strain on landfills, reduce pollution and
clean up the environment. Although the benefits of biodegradable waste are
numerous, there are a few drawbacks to this system.

 

4.1 Compost

All biodegradable waste reduces
itself over time to compost, an organic natural material. This is because all
biodegradable waste comes originally from natural products, such as trees and
plants, whereas non-biodegradable waste, including many plastics, is man-made.
This compost can then be used to help plants grow to make more biodegradable
materials.

4.2 Reduced Landfill

Non-biodegradable waste has to be
disposed of in some way. A lot of it is recycled and reused, but the rest goes
into landfill sites or garbage dumps. Landfills take up a large amount of space
and, as the materials contained will not decompose, cannot be moved. In addition,
the waste contained can pollute the local area as chemicals and other toxins
leak from the waste. Reducing landfill sites will help clean up the environment
and save on land space.

4.3 Environmental Benefits

A more serious problem with non-biodegradable waste is the garbage
that does not end up in the garbage can but is instead dropped in the street,
left on the beach or generally discarded. This material is harmful to plants
and animals. The waste pollutes the soil and is hazardous to animals that eat or
get trapped in it.

4.4 Waste

A major problem with biodegradable waste is that it is not
disposed of properly. It is often not composted and is put out with the regular
garbage when it needs to be treated separately. Eco friendly waste can be used
to make compost for agriculture or for biofuels, but instead it ends up in
landfill sites with non-biodegradable waste.

4.5 Bioplastics

Plastics are the best example of a non-biodegradable material.
They are man-made and will never decompose, and they are hazardous to plants
and animals. There has been a major push recently to replace all traditional
plastic bags with biodegradable versions made from soy and corn-starch. The
problem here is that they are not recycled properly, their production takes up
agricultural land, and these bags still take a long time to decompose so that
they are unpopular with industrial composters

5.
The Advantages of Biodegradable Products

Biodegradable products are those
that can be broken back down into their component parts over time by the action
of biological organisms and processes. Paper and textile products are
biodegradable, but traditional plastics made from petroleum bases are not.
Consumer packaging and disposable eating products made of new biodegradable
plastics from corn and other plant bases have numerous environmental and
efficiency advantages over non-biodegradable products.

5.1
Fuel Efficiency

The manufacturing of polylactic
acid biodegradable plastic consumer products saves oil, writes Elizabeth Royte
in Smithsonian Magazine. Biodegradable plastic production processes take 65
percent less energy than required to produce petroleum-based plastics,
according to Food Service Warehouse, the restaurant supply industry leader in
the U.S., making biodegradable plastics the top energy-efficient choice.
Biodegradable products are made from renewable resources like corn, sugar cane
and potato starch instead of oil: 200,000 barrels of oil a day are presently
used in the United States alone in the manufacture of plastic packaging, and
significant portions of this use could be eliminated by employing biodegradable
plastic products.

5.2
Less Pollution

Manufacturing biodegradable
consumer products produces far less pollution, says Elizabeth Royte in
Smithsonian Magazine. Because the products can break back down into nontoxic
components, they don’t cause dangerous chemical leachate that can poison water
or off gassing that can pollute the air. Biodegradable plastic consumer
products produce 68 percent less greenhouse gasses than petroleum-based plastic
products, according to Food Service Warehouse.

There are some disadvantages. Food Service Warehouse points out
that the corn and other plants used for biodegradable plastics production are
usually genetically modified crops, and may create erosion; but Smithsonian
Magazine quotes Eric Lombardi, president of the Grassroots Recycling Network,
as responding to these disadvantages with the reminder that we should not
discard the good in our pursuit of the perfect.

5.3
Compost ability

Composting biodegradable plastics along with
traditional biodegradable paper products and yard, food and agricultural wastes
can turn this trash into rich humic material, which can improve water and
nutrient retention and help grow healthier plants with less need for chemical
fertilizers and pesticides, according to Ramani Narayan of the Michigan
Biotechnology Institute and Michigan State University in a paper presented to
the Third International Scientific Workshop on Biodegradable Plastics and
Polymers. At present, biodegradable plastics can only be composted in
commercial composting facilities which can maintain high composting
temperatures, unlike paper and textile items, which can be composted in a
backyard compost bin. But the number of such composting facilities is rising,
according to Narayan, and municipalities and states around the country are
increasing their recycling and composting goals regularly to reduce the quantity
of waste being disposed of in expensive landfills. These factors, along with
industry developments toward materials that break down more easily, will help
increase the advantageous environmental effects of biodegradable products.